Cop accused of driving impaired testifies in his own defense

Saskatchewan Provincial Court in Prince Albert. Herald File Photo

Constable Bret Henry does not believe his consumption of alcohol impaired his ability to drive the night of March 2nd and morning of March 3rd, 2017.

Henry, a Prince Albert police officer who is accused of impaired driving, testified in his own defense during the continuation of his trial Monday, June 25th.

In his testimony guided by defense lawyer Michael Owens, Henry agreed with previous witnesses and video evidence which established he was at the Rock and Iron Sports Bar between 6:30 and 7:00 pm, after completing his regular shift on March 2nd. He also confirmed that he ate a burger and fries, wings , drank about 10 glasses of water and up to 5 ‘schooners’ of beer over a period of about four hours. Schooners contain about 30 ounces of beverage. Henry also said he weighed 268 pounds on that day, noting that he is in the habit of weighing himself twice a day due to his fitness regime.

Henry described the evening as one in which his anxiety level began to rise during a conversation at the Rock and Iron with Staff Sergeant David Schluff. According to Henry, that conversation was about the limited mental health resources available to police personnel who are dealing with traumatic events.

Henry told the court he has been suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder ever since he was called to a 2010 car accident in which a colleague, Const. Tim Ballantyne, was killed. Asked about how that event affected him, an emotional Henry stated, “It still affects me.”

Henry went on to describe how after the accident, he got to a point where he sought help, and is still being treated for those conditions with several medications.

At about 11:00 pm, Henry said he drove to Original Joe’s, and was joined by Const. Luke Torgunrud and his girlfriend. Henry stated he was drinking ‘Godfathers’, and was served seven over two hours. Henry affirmed that at about 1:00 a.m. Torgunrud, and two of Original Joe’s staff members all asked if they should call him a cab, to which he replied he was fine, and didn’t need it.. One of the staff members had gone out to Henry’s car to offer to call a cab.

It was at this point that Henry called Const. Darcy Bear, who had given testimony for the Crown earlier in the day. Henry said he asked Bear to come pick him up so he could ‘drive with him and talk’. According to both Bear and Henry, Bear was taking a statement at the time of the call, and told Henry he would call him back when he was done. Both in his testimony and cross-examination, Henry described Bear as a colleague who understood anxiety, depression and PTSD as they were both present with the officer (Ballantyne) who died. Henry said he had often confided in Bear.

Henry said that when Bear called him back, he asked Bear to come to the Gas Tavern. Henry stated he drove himself from Original Joe’s to the Gas Tavern. Enroute, Henry said he consumed four tablets of anti-anxiety medication while stopped at a red light.

Both Henry and Bear testified that Henry was standing outside his vehicle with the driver’s door open when Bear pulled in sideways behind Henry’s vehicle. Henry took one step toward Bears’ vehicle, placing his arms on it to lean through the window.

During his testimony, Henry described this as a natural motion for someone to enable them to talk through the passenger window.

However, Bear’s evidence for the Crown earlier in the day described this motion as a necessity for Henry to hold himself up. In his testimony, Bear told the court that he picked up Henry shortly after calling him back at about 1:42 a.m., describing Henry as being ‘unsteady’ when he closed the door of his car, then getting into Bear’s truck. Bear also described that his vehicle filled with the smell of fresh alcohol after Henry got in, alleging that, “he had been drinking a lot.” Bear also stated that Henry’s speech was slurred and he shouldn’t have been driving.

Bear said as he drove Henry west on 14th St, Henry requested twice that Bear stop the vehicle. Bear stopped the vehicle at which point Henry cried, without any conversation, for about 10 minutes. After that Henry asked to go back to the Gas Tavern.

Bear stated that he tried to convince Henry to go home, which Henry refused to do. Bear said he asked Henry not to do anything stupid, and took him back to the Gas Tavern, letting him out in the back alley of the building.

Defense counsel vigorously challenged Bear’s testimony, first asking him about a March 13th, 2018 request by Staff Sergeant Brett MacDonald which compelled Bear to provide ‘all details about any contact in person or otherwise, and any observations’ about the events. Owens then pointed to a March 15th reply to the memo by Bear which included:

  • That Henry called Bear at 1:09 am.
  • Bear was taking a statement at the time of the call
  • That a second call was made with a request to pick up Henry at the Gas Tavern
  • That Henry was standing outside his car when Bear arrived to pick him up on the north side of the 100 block of 14th St W
  • That Bear dropped Henry off in the back alley behind the Gas Tavern.

A March 16th reply from MacDonald to Bear asks for clarification as there is no 100 block, to which Bear noted it was a typo that should have read 200 block.

Owens further questioned Bear asking why his information which was supposed to contain all details did not have the information he was providing to court.

“There is no mention of slurring in your report to MacDonald.” Owens pointed out. “Is your memory better today than on March 13th?”

“When is the first time you (Bear) told anyone about his balance or speech?” demanded Owens.

“Today,” said Bear.

Owens, “What syllables or consonants or vowels did he slur?”

Bear, “S’s…I’m, at the Gas..”

Owens, “Did you test leaning?”

Bear, “No.”

Owens, “Have you ever leaned sober?”

Bear, “Yes.”

Owens continued to challenge Bear on his testimony, concluding with a question as to why Bear dropped him back off at the Gas Tavern. “Was there anything stopping you from just taking him home?”

Bear said no, that he could have taken him home. Asked if Bear felt confident about leaving him at the Gas Tavern Bear said “No, but I didn’t feel confident to stop him. If I had resisted, there would have been a fight.”

Like Bear, Henry’s testimony also described being dropped off in the back alley, at which point he went into the Gas Tavern. There, he said he spoke with an acquaintance for a while, then was approached by a woman who made angry comments to him, accused him of being racist and slapped his face.

The woman was escorted out, while Henry continued his conversation. He said it was at Gas Tavern that he began feeling the effects of the anxiety medication. Henry said he called himself a cab, went to McDonald’s in the cab, then had the cab take him home. Henry said he called then in sick for his next shift, as he knew the medication would keep him “out for quite a while.”

In cross-examination, crown prosecutor Bill Burge suggested to Henry numerous times that he was actually drunk during the period in which he drove a vehicle. Henry was adamant that he was not. He stated that his anxiety rising up throughout the evening contributed to him using a louder than normal voice at times and becoming ‘boisterous’.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Sept.4. The charge against Henry has not been proven in court.