P.A. police officer guilty of impaired driving

A 14-year veteran of the Prince Albert Police Service has been found guilty of impaired driving.

Judge Hugh Harradence ruled Const. Brett Henry was guilty of impaired driving at Prince Albert provincial court Friday. Staff at Original Joe’s reported Henry as an impaired driver when he drove away from the establishment on March 3, 2017, after drinking seven drinks, each containing two ounces of alcohol. He had consumed five 20-oz schooners of beer earlier in the night at the Rock and Iron Sports Bar.

After consuming the five glasses of beer, Henry drove himself to Original Joe’s. Despite multiple offers for a taxi or for a ride home, Henry drove himself from that establishment to the Gas Tavern. Several people, including servers, a bartender and witnesses who sat with Henry that night, indicated he had balance issues, smelled of alcohol and was slurring his speech.

As the verdict was read, Henry sat silently in the gallery. Following adjournment, he refused to comment, saying only “it is what it is.” He will return to court on Nov. 21 for sentencing.

Henry has been suspended with pay from the Prince Albert Police Service following his conviction, to allow for an internal review administrative review that will consider any implications under the Saskatchewan Muicipal Police Discipline Regulations Act, a press release said. It also allows Henry to consider an appeal. He has 30 days to appeal the ruling. The police service declined further coment.

The Crown’s case was argued without physical evidence, such as a breathalyzer test, as Henry was not pulled over by police. Instead, the case was built around video surveillance and testimony from 13 witnesses, including several people who ran into Henry that night, as well as opinion evidence from an expert regarding the effects of alcohol on the body.

Defence lawyer Michael Owens argued that no evidence was presented in court to show Henry drove badly on the night in question. During cross-examination, he asked each of the witnesses if they would know how Henry speaks and behaves on a regular basis. Most couldn’t say.

Only one witness, fellow officer Const. Darcy Bear, said he knows Henry and considers him a friend.

Bear said Henry called him that night for a ride. Bear, who was working, wasn’t able to drive Henry. The two connected again, and had a conversation near the Gas Tavern after Henry drove himself there from Original Joe’s. Bear testified that Henry smelled of alcohol, was unsteady on his feet and was slurring his s’s when he spoke.

Bear’s testimony was consistent, but not identical, to that of the other Crown witnesses, Harradence found.

Harradence pointed to the evidence of Briianne Larson, who served Henry at Original Joe’s that night, as well as Kamandeep Singh, the bartender working that evening. He also mentioned testimony given by Rock and Iron server Clayton Mullis, conservation officer Christopher Gaudet and fellow police officer Luke Torgenrud.

Mullis said Henry was acting “obnoxious” when he left the Rock and Iron, was drunk and should not have driven. According to Mullis, Henry had “loose lips.”

Gaudet, who came to talk to Torgenrud, sitting with Henry at Original Joe’s said Henry made a weird comment about his nose. Later in the night, he said, Henry had slurred speech, was swaying, smelled of alcohol and had poor balance.

Larson said she believed Henry was intoxicated, testifying that he stumbled, knocked a glass over and was squinting at his phone. Singh said Henry’s eyes weren’t fully open, and he had a “drunk person walk.” Torgenrud also believed Henry to be impaired, seeing him squinting at his phone, with red eyes.

Harradence said the testimony of those witnesses matched what he saw in surveillance footage. The testimony, combined with the video footage, Harradence said, correlated with the expert witness’s testimony about the effects of alcohol impairment.

The defence called two witnesses to the stand, Henry, as well as one of his acquaintances, Debbie McDougall. The pair had a 30-minute conversation at the Gas Tavern.

McDougall testified that she has experience dealing with people who drink. She said Henry’s balance was normal, that she did not smell alcohol on his breath, and that she thought he was 100 per cent sober.

Henry admitted he drank — five schooners and seven mixed drinks. He said the first time he noticed a physical change was after the third drink at Original Joe’s. He told the court that he often leans against objects and squints at his phone. He admitted he was talkative and boisterous, but denied that he was impaired.

Harradence rejected the testimony of both defence witnesses. He characterized Henry’s evidence as “unreliable,” and said McDougall’s testimony was “inconsistent,” both with the other witnesses and with Henry’s own testimony.

“Her evidence is simply not believable,” he said. “She was untruthful … I do not believe it was credible.”

Owens argued that the Crown witnesses were basing their assumption of Henry’s impairment based only on the amount he drank, and not on how alcohol impacted Henry.

Owens stressed that just to drink a lot of alcohol in a night does not automatically make someone impaired, as alcohol impacts everyone differently.

Harradence quoted Owens while reading his verdict.

“Ounces does not equal impairment,” he said.

Harradence acknowledged the argument but said he is “satisfied” that Henry was impaired.

Harradence said he would have to be persuaded to sentence Henry to anything harsher than the minimum — a fine and a driving prohibition.