POLITICS

'Chaos' erupted as RCMP wrestled with hose during botched siege in Newfoundland

05/14/2012 05:34 EDT | Updated 07/14/2012 05:12 EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Mounties wrestled with a high-pressure water hose as they tried a last-ditch effort to flush Leo Crockwell from his Newfoundland home just before he slipped undetected from a weeklong standoff, court heard Monday.

RCMP Sgt. Dave Hains described a scene of "chaos" as officers first blasted water into the two-storey green home the night of Dec. 10, 2010 in Bay Bulls, N.L.

Hains told the jury trial in provincial Supreme Court that too much pressure snapped the nozzle off the hose, spraying water in all directions. He said the Mounties turned off the water and repositioned the hose before pumping thousands of litres into the house owned by Crockwell's elderly mother.

"We were learning as we were going," Hains said of the flush tactic.

Hains also said he was the only officer two days earlier to guard one side of the house as officers used a battering ram to try to enter the home.

That's the same side of the house that Crockwell is alleged to have escaped from the night of Dec. 10.

He was arrested without incident on Dec. 11 after the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was tipped by a couple who'd given him a ride to a home several kilometres away. The Mounties had continued to pump water into the home for hours after their suspect had fled.

Crockwell, 57, is representing himself and has pleaded not guilty to eight charges including firearms offences, assault and making threats.

He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison if convicted of intentionally firing a gun while recklessly endangering the lives or safety of others.

Court also heard Monday from a crisis negotiator, RCMP Cpl. Patrick Gehue, who said he made repeated but fruitless attempts to contact Crockwell from Dec. 4 to 11, 2010.

Gehue said he tried reaching Crockwell on his home phone, cellphone and on a police phone that was tossed in a window of the besieged house.

The only direct contact, Gehue told court, was on Dec. 6 when he received a phone call.

Audio of the police recording played in court was that of an irate man who identified himself to Gehue as Leo Crockwell.

The man asked to speak to the commanding officer and used an expletive in describing the state of his family home as "a ... war zone."

He demanded that RCMP officers "go over on your own property and play war games."

"I don't have a criminal record," the increasingly angry man yelled.

"I don't even have a ... parking ticket," says a transcript of the recording that was entered as evidence.

Gehue barely gets a word in during the brief exchange, saying: "You sound pretty upset about that Leo," before the call abruptly ends.

Under cross-examination, Crockwell asked Gehue about the role he was to play during the standoff.

Gehue said negotiators were trying to reach "a peaceful resolution."

Crockwell asked why police did everything to "aggravate" and "exacerbate" the situation if they wanted to resolve it.

Gehue said he wasn't directly involved with police decisions to use tear gas, pepper spray, noise grenades, a battering ram and ultimately the water hose to force Crockwell out before he escaped.

Documents released under Access to Information show the Mounties spent more than $444,000 on the siege, much of it for overtime costs and backup.

Gehue also told court that police responding to the standoff were told that Crockwell had been arrested in 1998 for making threats, and spent time at the Waterford Hospital, a psychiatric facility in St. John's.

Crockwell responded that no charges were laid in that incident, at which time Judge Richard LeBlanc reminded him that he must address witnesses in the form of questions, not statements.

The 2010 standoff started when a neighbour phoned police after Crockwell allegedly held a gun to his sister Catherine Crockwell's neck and threatened to "waste her away," court has heard.

In outlining her case, prosecutor Elizabeth Ivany has told the jurors that witnesses will describe how Crockwell had been acting strangely in the days leading up to that confrontation, including firing a shotgun blast into a wall of the home.

The trial, which began April 19, is expected to wrap up at the end of this month.