Trial for police officer accused of driving impaired begins

Saskatchewan Provincial Court in Prince Albert. Herald File Photo

Lead investigator recounts video evidence showing several alcoholic beverages landing on Cst. Brett Henry’s table in March 2017

Evidence on the first day of the trial of Prince Albert Police Const. Brett Henry focused on video surveillance and receipts that may show how much alcohol he consumed on the night of March 2, 2017.

Henry is facing a charge of impaired driving. The Crown’s case relies on video surveillance, witnesses and expert testimony, as he was not pulled over and there is no evidence of his actions on the road.

The investigation began after a tip came in about a potential impaired driver. It appears as if a waitress at Original Joe’s who served Henry the night made that report.

Through the Crown’s principal examination of the case’s lead investigator, Staff Sgt. Brent McDonald, a timeline of the events of that night began to become clear.

Crown prosecutor Bill Burge took McDonald through the evidence he collected and the surveillance video he obtained from three establishments that night – the Rock and Iron Sports Bar, Original Joe’s (OJ’s) and the Gas Tavern (The Gas).

At both OJ’s and The Rock and Iron, McDonald obtained credit card receipts, bar tabs and video surveillance. A selection of clips from that surveillance was shown in court Thursday, while the full videos were separately entered into evidence.

The receipts showed purchases of about $50 at The Rock and Iron, and about $100 at OJ’s.

According to McDonald and video evidence, Henry consumed a burger, fried and wings at the Rock and Iron, as well as water, in addition to alcohol he was seen drinking.

He did not appear to order any food at OJ’s, and at one point may have purchased drinks for other patrons at the establishment.

According to McDonald’s testimony, Henry arrived at the Rock and Iron at about 5:45 p.m. Several current and former Prince Albert Police Services officers were present that night, as they were celebrating a goodbye party for a departing colleague.

At about 6:51 p.m., Henry received his first beer, a schooner, at the bar.

McDonald inquired about the size of the schooner, and using a measuring cup, determined it held about 32 ounces of liquid filled to the brim, or about 30 ounces with a regular pour. Shortly after 7:30, McDonald observed video of Henry finishing his first schooner and receiving a second. At about 8:30 p.m. he had a third, and at about 9:14, McDonald saw Henry getting a fourth.

Shortly after 10 p.m., McDonald said a fifth schooner arrived at Henry’s spot at the table. At about 11 p.m., he left the table, and left the view of the camera at the bar. He was one of only a few people still at the table at the time. The other officers had left.

A short time later, a car matching the description of Henry’s is seen pulling up to OJ’s. A man identified by McDonald as Henry gets out, and enters the bar. He is seen being led to a table.

Three people who were with Henry at The Rock and Iron also join him at OJ’s.

According to video surveillance, the bartender makes a drink that appears to have two shots in it at about 11:10 p.m. That drink is brought to Henry’s table.

The process repeats, with a double-shot drink made by the bartender, and subsequently brought to the table, six more times between 11:10 p.m. and 1:12 a.m.

Shortly after 1:30 a.m., Henry is seen on video knocking a glass off of a table with his left arm. It’s not known whether the glass was empty or full. He left the dining room at about 1:38 a.m.

At that point, there is a glitch in the surveillance video. About a minute is missing. Henry is seen in the vestibule between the external and internal doors at OJ’s. Then, in a subsequent clip, his car is seen running. He is not seen entering the car.

The bartender, however, is seen. He goes to the car, opens the passenger side door and appears to have a brief conversation with the driver.

Then, the car backs out of the parking space, and leaves the frame of the outside camera, driving west around the OJ’s patio.

A short time later, Henry arrives at The Gas.

He does not drink at the gas, though he does get into a confrontation with another patron. She is seen slapping him across the face.

According to McDonald, Henry’s car was found at the Gas the next morning.

In his cross-examination of McDonald, defence lawyer Michael Owens challenged McDonald’s choice of whom to interview, as well as his decision as to which video evidence to seize from the bar.

Owens asked McDonald why, if there were at least six, if not more, officers at the Rock and Iron event that evening, he didn’t interview more than one.

McDonald said he chose to interview only one police witness, the one who saw Henry at OJ’s, because he saw the accused at both bars.

Owens pointed out the surveillance showed when the officers, and then Henry, left the table and the room, not when they left the bar.

He then turned to whether McDonald saw any signs of intoxication. He inquired if McDonald could say for sure that five or six schooners of beer would intoxicate Henry.

“In my personal experience drinking schooners, I know I would be,” McDonald said.

McDonald confirmed under cross-examination, that there were no complaints about the way Henry was driving. He also confirmed there was no evidence on the vehicle of a collision, and that it was properly parked at the Gas.

“I didn’t see any driving impairment indicators,” McDonald said.

He also admitted it was hard to tell on the video what Henry drank at OJ’s.

“It is very difficult to determine or observe any drinking of any beverage,” he acknowledged, after pointing out he did see Henry toast a shot he was bought by a neighbouring table.

Owens then suggested to McDonald that footage of Henry walking and standing showed no sign of impairment.

Here, McDonald disagreed.

He said Henry appeared to stumble into the wall upon entry to the Gas. McDonald contends Henry continued to have issues remaining upright.

“It looked like he fell into the bar,” McDonald said.

“It looked like he then braced himself with his left arm on the bar.”

He also said when a man tapped Henry on the shoulder, Henry appeared to spin around and lose his footing.

McDonald, though, couldn’t recall whether he had seen Henry stumble more than once.

McDonald’s testimony took longer than Burge had expected, due to a debate between the lawyers about whether to include the video snippets, and disagreement over McDonald’s assessment of what he saw on the video. After some back and forth, it was agreed McDonald could describe the actions he saw at certain time stamps, but not give an interpretation of what those actions meant. For example, he was permitted to describe that drinks were made, but not to indicate that the drinks were specifically for Henry.

There was also confusion about what was said in McDonald’s interview of one of the witnesses. After an adjournment, though, that line of questioning was dropped.

The Crown’s case is expected to continue with at least three more eyewitnesses today. The case will then resume next Friday, where the Crown is expected to call his expert witness, and when the defence may or may not present his case.

Court is to resume today at 9:30 a.m. at the provincial courthouse.