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RCMP officer found not guilty of assault with a weapon in Indigenous man's arrest

Const. Joshua Grafton, left, speaks to supporters outside the Prince George courthouse in April 2023. A number of uniformed Mounties and members of the RCMP Emergency Response Team filled the small courtroom to show their support.  (Betsy Trumpener/CBC News - image credit)
Const. Joshua Grafton, left, speaks to supporters outside the Prince George courthouse in April 2023. A number of uniformed Mounties and members of the RCMP Emergency Response Team filled the small courtroom to show their support. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC News - image credit)

An RCMP officer charged with assault with a weapon, assault, and obstruction of justice over the arrest of an Indigenous man in Prince George in 2016 has been found not guilty on all counts.

Const. Joshua Grafton, an RCMP dog handler, was criminally charged four years after a back-alley takedown of two truck thieves was captured by a backyard security camera.

Grafton was charged with assaulting a man with a police dog and obstructing justice by allegedly making false entries in his dog handler's report.

But provincial court Judge P. McDermick ruled Grafton's actions were "proportionate, necessary, and reasonable" given the "high-risk" situation.

The judge noted that despite the use of force and potential for injury, the man suffered "only superficial injuries."

McDermick also cleared Grafton of the charge of obstruction of justice. The Crown alleged Grafton lied on his official report of the incident. The judge agreed that "portions of the report did not match the video" but said he could not establish there was an intent to mislead.

In the report, Grafton did not include the seven blows he landed on the man, including two to his head as he lay on the ground. Grafton testified that he did not believe he had to report this due to his interpretation of the force used.

McDermick accepted the reasoning, saying the "errors in reporting are indeed problematic and troubling to an extent" but weren't enough to assign intent.

The trial, which took place more than seven years after the incident, lasted more than 40 days.

The case had drawn attention from groups as disparate as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the National Police Federation.

In the courtroom

On the day the defence began closing arguments in April, more than 20 uniformed Emergency Response Team officers and RCMP members filed into the small courtroom in Prince George in support of Grafton.

Two uniformed members of the RCMP Emergency Response Team leave the Prince George courthouse on April 4, 2023. A number of uniformed RCMP officers filled the courtroom in support of Const. Joshua Grafton.
Two uniformed members of the RCMP Emergency Response Team leave the Prince George courthouse on April 4, 2023. A number of uniformed RCMP officers filled the courtroom in support of Const. Joshua Grafton.

Two uniformed members of the RCMP Emergency Response Team leave the Prince George courthouse on April 4, 2023. A number of uniformed RCMP officers filled the courtroom in support of Const. Joshua Grafton. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

The police officers filled the seats in the court gallery and stood against the walls as Grafton's defence lawyer, Ravi Hira, told the judge they were there to support Grafton "but didn't want the impression they were influencing the court."

The judge replied that the court was open to all members of the public.

North District RCMP Chief Supt Warren Brown was also briefly in the courtroom.

He told CBC News he had been at the scene of the 2016 incident after the arrests and was in court to observe the proceedings.

"A high-risk stop" 

Backyard surveillance video footage of the arrest that was introduced as evidence shows snow falling in a dark alley before a pickup truck is boxed in by police. The arrest that follows is floodlit by the headlights of an RCMP cruiser.

Hira argued that the video was of low quality, failed to show crucial details, and only showed the arrests from one perspective.

Hira told the court that evidence showed the man pulled from the truck failed to put both hands up, making it a "high-risk stop."

"It's dangerous until they show both hands."

Const. Joshua Grafton's defense lawyers, Ravi Hira, left, and Ryan Hira, right, outside the Prince George courthouse.
Const. Joshua Grafton's defense lawyers, Ravi Hira, left, and Ryan Hira, right, outside the Prince George courthouse.

Const. Joshua Grafton's defense lawyers, Ravi Hira, left, and Ryan Hira, right, outside the Prince George courthouse. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

Criminal charges against two other officers at the scene during the arrest were stayed in 2021 after the prosecution service deemed the evidence insufficient to meet the standard for charge approval.

The defence argued Grafton's actions and his use of force were "proportional, necessary, and reasonable," and the arrested person suffered no significant injuries.

A 2020 civil suit alleges Grafton and the RCMP were "reckless, arrogant, high-handed [and] abusive" during the early morning arrest in a city alleyway on Feb. 18, 2016.