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CanadaJudge disallows second gun seizure by Peel police officer

15:35  30 april  2019
15:35  30 april  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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For the second time in just over a year, a loaded handgun seized by the same Peel Regional Police officer has been excluded from evidence at a trial Darrell Corona seized from a drug dealer because the judge needed to disassociate the court from what he described as “ police misconduct” and a

The Peel Regional Police (PRP) provide policing services for Peel Region (excluding Caledon) in Ontario, Canada. It is the second largest municipal police service in Ontario after the Toronto Police

Judge disallows second gun seizure by Peel police officer © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited Const. Darrell Corona experienced “a rather selective form of amnesia” in testimony describing his 2017 arrest of Nathan Mitchell, Ontario Superior Court Justice James Stribopoulos wrote.

For the second time in just over a year, a loaded handgun seized by the same Peel Regional Police officer has been excluded from evidence at a trial because the judge found that the officer violated a suspect’s rights.

Ontario Superior Court Justice James Stribopoulos said he would not consider the weapon that Const. Darrell Corona seized from a drug dealer because the judge needed to disassociate the court from what he described as “police misconduct” and a “deliberate” violation of Charter rights.

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In the ruling released Friday, Stribopoulos issued a strong rebuke of Corona’s testimony about a March 2017 traffic stop in Mississauga, during which Corona spotted the handgun in Nathan Mitchell’s car.

The judge noted that while there were gaps in Corona’s memory of the traffic stop, his recollection of details “crucial” to the Crown’s position were clear, leaving Stribopoulos with the impression that Corona “deliberately chose to give selective evidence before this court.”

“Despite the fact that Mr. Mitchell is a convicted drug dealer who was carrying a handgun, I prefer his evidence where it conflicts with that of P.C. Corona,” Stribopoulos wrote in his decision.

Following Friday’s ruling, Mitchell was found not guilty of all charges, including possession of a prohibited weapon and unauthorized possession of a firearm in a motor vehicle.

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The ruling comes 15 months after another Brampton judge raised concerns about another traffic stop by Corona that also resulted in the seizure of a loaded handgun.

In that case, Justice G. Paul Renwick found Corona’s evidence to be replete with “half truths and contradictions,” and said his testimony about the reason for the traffic stop was “completely undermined” by video evidence. Calling his decision a “bitter pill,” Renwick opted to exclude the loaded gun as evidence due to breaches of accused man’s Charter rights. Charges against the accused, Ahmed Jama, were then dismissed.

Corona could not be reached for comment Monday through Peel Regional Police or its police association.

Peel police spokesman Sgt. Joe Cardi said “any judicial criticism of our police officers is of serious concern.”

“Peel Regional Police takes our obligations under the Charter seriously,” he said in an email.

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Cardi said Corona was not charged under Ontario’s Police Services Act following Renwick’s criticisms in 2018.

Mitchell’s lawyer said Monday that even amid a “high prevalence” of gun violence, the court has to distance itself from police behaviour that infringes on citizens’ rights — violations that, in this case, included arbitrary detention.

“The courts clearly sent a message in this case that they are not going to tolerate this behaviour, regardless of what’s found,” Alexandra Mamo said in an interview. “The hope is that that message gets sent to police officers generally and police forces so they understand that the behaviour is not going to be tolerated by the courts.”

Everyone wants to get firearms off the street, Mamo said, “but it has to be done properly.”

Stribopoulos’s ruling follows a March 23, 2017 traffic stop in which Corona pulled over Mitchell’s car after it left the parking lot of a Mississauga strip club just after midnight. When Corona shone his flashlight into the vehicle, he saw a handgun on the floor near Mitchell’s feet. He arrested Mitchell and his girlfriend, who Mitchell had just picked up from the club.

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The reason for the stop was the “critical” issue in a pretrial motion alleging Mitchell’s Charter rights had been breached, Stribopoulos said in the ruling.

Corona testified that he recalled seeing Mitchell’s vehicle drive into the parking lot with its headlights turned on, and the glare from the lights prevented him from being able to see the driver. However, he said that when the car drove out of the parking lot, the headlights were turned off.

Mitchell denied his headlights were ever off, claiming with “100 per cent confidence” they were on.

“Mr. Mitchell testified to being conscientious about promptly correcting any issues relating to his vehicle’s lighting, given that he was involved in illegal activity at that time and wanted to avoid police attention,” Stribopoulos wrote.

Corona also testified that he checked the license plate of Mitchell’s car and learned that it was a rental. The officer said the “criminal element” sometimes use rentals to conceal their bail status, the reason Mitchell admitted he was driving a rental car.

Corona testified that he turned his lights on and pulled the car over for the Highway Traffic Act offence of driving without headlights. Contrary to normal police procedure, he did not radio his stop into police dispatch, something he admitted was a “serious mistake.”

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It was soon after Corona walked up to the vehicle that he shone his flashlight into it and saw the handgun at Mitchell’s feet. He drew his firearm and arrested the pair.

Stribopoulos’s ruling highlighted “various gaps” with Corona’s recall of the incident, noting he has “a clear recollection of those details that are somewhat crucial to the Crown’s position” but was “conspicuously fuzzy” on others.

Corona testified that he could not recall details of his conversation with Mitchell, or the locations where he made his headlight observations in the parking lot. Asked to show on an aerial map where his cruiser was when he first spotted Mitchell’s vehicle, Corona circled a “large area encompassing almost the entire parking lot on the south side of the building,” Stribopoulos said. Asked where he was when he saw the car with its headlights off, Corona drew “an even larger circle on the Google map.”

Stribopoulos found it “less than credible” that Corona would recall the specifics of the headlights but not his approximate location in the parking lot when he made the observations. He also found it hard to believe that Corona would not remember anything he said beyond an initial “greeting,” given that the stop resulted in a handgun.

Corona admitted to issues with recall, too, but attributed them to the traumatic nature of the incident and the grave danger he faced in the circumstances.

“The difficulty with this explanation,” Stribopoulos said, “is that it seems only to have resulted in a rather selective form of amnesia.”

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The judge ultimately ruled that he disbelieved Corona’s claim that he observed Mitchell driving without headlights, and the stop had constituted an unjustified detention.

When Stribopoulos considered why the officer might have had a selective memory, he referenced the Jama case, in which surveillance video “impeached” his evidence about why he pulled the car over.

In the Mitchell case, by claiming not to remember important observations, Corona “avoided potentially being ensnared in a similar credibility trap,” the judge wrote.

That’s not how an honest witness testified, he said.

“A witness who is committed to telling the truth does not feign an absence of memory regarding important details to hedge his bets in case confronted by contradictory evidence,” Stribopoulos wrote.

Corona was also questioned about whether he pulled up to look at the driver before pulling him over, something both Mitchell and his girlfriend testified had happened.

Although Corona testified in the Jama case that this was his usual practice before carrying out a traffic stop, he said he could not remember doing so in the Mitchell case.

Here, too, Stribopoulos took issue, noting that the officer felt “stung” by the suggestion in the Jama ruling that race may have played a role in his decision to stop Jama, who is Black.

Corona’s claim in the Mitchell case that he could not remember doing this may have been to avoid a similar conclusion, Stribopoulos said — namely, if he did not know Mitchell was Black, “it couldn’t be suggested that race factored into his decision to stop him.”

Referencing a protocol under which a Crown prosecutor notifies a chief of police when concerning remarks are made in court about an officer, the Peel police spokesman Cardi said Peel’s chief had not been yet been notified of any concerns in the Mitchell case.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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