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Rights + Justice

‘I Didn’t Want to Get Arrested’

A bystander testifies about being pressured by the RCMP to delete the video he took of the events following Dale Culver’s death.

Amanda Follett Hosgood and Jen St. Denis 18 Jun 2024The Tyee

Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. Jen St. Denis is a reporter with The Tyee covering civic issues.

A Prince George resident says he felt “violated” after two RCMP officers allegedly threatened to confiscate his cellphone and charge him with obstruction if he refused to delete video footage he took following a deadly police incident.

Two RCMP officers are in a Prince George courtroom this week facing one count each of attempting to obstruct justice in relation to the altercation, which occurred on the night Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan man Dale Culver died as he was being taken into custody on July 18, 2017.

That night, shortly after 10 p.m., roughly seven RCMP officers surrounded Culver as they arrested him. He was pepper-sprayed, punched in the head and kicked or kneed in the head or upper body, according to a statement from the BC Prosecution Service.

Culver died about a half-hour later, while still at the scene, after complaining that he was struggling to breathe, BCPS said.

The obstruction trial for Sgt. Bayani Eusebio Cruz, who was described by the defence as an experienced RCMP investigator, and Const. Arthur Dalman, who had been on the job less than six months at the time of the incident, began last Thursday after B.C. provincial court judge Adrian Brooks ruled that the officers’ notes were admissible as evidence.

Kenneth Moe, a Prince George resident who recorded video using his cellphone as the officers gathered in the street following Culver’s death, began his testimony on Thursday afternoon.

Moe testified that he left his cousin’s home that night at about 10:30 p.m. and caught the last bus home.

After getting off the bus, he visited a nearby gas station to buy pop and, as he left the gas station, saw a police vehicle with flashing lights drive by. Moe said that he pulled out his cellphone and began recording as he neared the scene of a police incident.

“I figured I’d pull out my cellphone and start videotaping,” Moe testified. “It piqued my interest.”

Moe said he saw a handful of police officers “standing in the middle of the road talking.” Several police vehicles were parked in the road with lights flashing. Moe estimated that he arrived at the scene at about 11 p.m.

He said he walked to the corner of a parking lot and sat on a concrete barrier, staying well back in an effort not to interfere with police. He estimated that he recorded for about 10 minutes.

Moe testified about seeing a police officer talking to occupants of a black car.

“After he let them leave, the car stopped by, because I was right next to the [parking lot] exit,” he said. “They stopped, opened their window and told me that I should stop recording because the cops were making people delete their videos, and they didn’t want me to get in trouble.”

Moe said he thanked them but continued recording. “I was thinking, whatever, it’s legal to videotape, there’s no reason why I can’t,” he testified. “I wasn’t interfering with [police] at all.”

He said that a younger RCMP officer who had been standing with the others saw him recording and began walking toward him. Moe turned off the phone and put it in his pocket, he said. When the officer asked him if he had been taking video, Moe responded that he had.

“He asked to see the video, so I pulled the phone out of my pocket, pulled up the gallery and started playing the video,” he said. “He tried to snatch the phone out of my hand.”

Moe testified that his reaction was to pull the phone away and put it back in his pocket.

“That’s when he started getting really aggressive with me, basically telling me that he was going to arrest me for obstruction,” Moe said. “He was really angry, for some reason, with me.”

Moe testified that the officer told him that he would take the phone as evidence if he didn’t delete the video. He recalled questioning the officer about the logic in deleting the video if the phone was needed for evidence.

After several minutes, another officer approached and introduced himself as a supervisor, Moe said. He testified that he asked the senior officer for the first officer’s badge number.

“He told me that if I filed a complaint it would go through him anyway, so not to worry about it,” Moe said. “He asked me again if I had taken a video. I said, ‘Yes.’ He asked to see it, so I pulled it out of my pocket again and was showing him the video, except I held it tight this time in case he tried to snatch it again.”

The second officer told him again that he had to delete the video or they would take the phone as evidence, Moe said. He added that, as it was his only phone, losing it would have “really affected” him.

“I just wanted to get out of there. With the way they were acting toward me, I didn’t want to get arrested. While I was showing him the video, I made sure he saw me delete it,” Moe said.

As cross-examination began late Thursday afternoon, defence lawyer Brian Gilson suggested a discrepancy between what Moe told the court and what he told B.C.’s police watchdog during an interview on July 23, 2017, as it investigated Culver’s death. The Independent Investigations Office of BC investigates all police-involved incidents of death and serious harm.

In his statement, Moe told IIO investigators that the occupants of the black vehicle told him to “stop recording, that the police would take my phone.” Gilson pointed out that there was no mention of deleting video.

“They didn’t say the police would make you delete it,” Gilson said. “They said the police would take your phone.”

Moe responded that he wasn’t sure exactly what had been said.

In her testimony Monday, Kelsey Michaloski, an occupant of the vehicle, confirmed to the court that three RCMP officers approached bystanders and told them to delete any cellphone videos related to the incident. Witnesses were threatened with jail or having their cellphones confiscated, she said.

Earlier Thursday, RCMP Staff Sgt. Todd Cruch testified that police have the authority to seize a cellphone if it’s determined to hold evidence. He added that it was also possible to gather the evidence by consent, which would involve taking the person to the detachment to transfer the evidence to the RCMP.

During his cross-examination, Gilson also brought up Moe’s past interactions with police. He attempted to get Moe to admit he’d been angry and upset while dealing with the two officers, which Moe denied.

“I wasn’t angry, I was worried,” Moe said.

Gilson suggested that the senior officer told Moe there was no evidence in the video he’d taken, which Moe also denied.

He asked Moe to confirm he has progressive hearing loss from working on oil rigs, and that his hearing loss had started a couple of years before Culver’s arrest in 2017. Moe said his hearing loss had started at that time, but he said he could hear well when people were speaking right next to him.

He also testified that his vision was slightly blurred after having three to four drinks with his cousin that evening.

Moe said his phone remains with the IIO. An expert witness is expected to testify about efforts to retrieve evidence from it, Crown prosecutors said as the trial got underway last week.

The trial is expected to continue until July 27.  [Tyee]

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