TORONTO - A police officer's "cavalier" practice of arrest first and investigate afterward constituted a serious breach of constitutional rights, Ontario's top court ruled Wednesday.
In acquitting Quincy Brown on drug charges, the Ontario Court of Appeal found Const. Saverio Manafo did not have reasonable grounds to arrest Brown on a busy Toronto street corner before searching him and finding drugs.
"It is apparent that Officer Manafo sees arrest as the best tool when investigating crime," the justices wrote in their decision.
"The officer does not appear to understand that arrest is a serious intrusion on the personal autonomy of the person arrested."
Manafo and a fellow officer were in a cruiser when he noticed Brown — described as a six-foot-seven-inch black man — standing on the sidewalk, then crossing the street.
Partly based on Brown's interaction with another person and the position of his hand, the officer suspected he was hiding drugs. They grabbed Brown and arrested him.
The officers then found he had cocaine, marijuana and cash. Brown was convicted in November 2010 of various drug-related offences.
In quashing the conviction, the Appeal Court ruled Manafo might have thought he had good grounds to believe Brown was carrying and dealing drugs, but decided there was nothing objective to confirm those suspicions.
The court also noted Manafo's partner testified he would not have arrested Brown based on the same observations.
In court, Manafo explained his approach this way:
"We're able to effect an arrest and release unconditionally if need be," the officer said. "As in this case, where there is further investigation warranted, it works out to a win-win situation."
The court disagreed. It found Manafo breached Brown's rights by arresting him without any other investigation.
"He arrested in this case, as he apparently routinely does, without considering other options, because in his mind, if it turns out there are no grounds for the arrest, the individual will be released," the court said in a written decision.
"Officer Manafo's failure to consider less intrusive means of investigating, and his somewhat cavalier attitude towards the exercise of his powers of arrest, make this (charter) violation a serious one."
The top court said Manafo's contention he had acted in good faith based on his experience simply wasn't good enough to justify the "highly intrusive" arrest.
"The individual’s constitutional right to be left alone by the state cannot depend exclusively on the officer’s subjective perception of events, regardless of how accurate that perception might be," the court found.
"The issue is not the correctness of the officer's belief, but the need to impose discernable objectively measurable limits on police powers."
As a result, the Appeal Court threw out the evidence related to Brown's possession of the drugs, leaving the prosecution with no other evidence to support a conviction.
Zach Kerbel, Brown's lawyer, said he was pleased with the ruling.
"They don't want to be transferring constitutional oversight to an officer," he said.