VANCOUVER - A Vancouver police officer who was captured on video pushing a disabled woman to the ground in the city's Downtown Eastside, further inflaming the department's already troubled relationship with the area's residents, admitted Monday that he abused his authority and used unnecessary force.
But Const. Taylor Robinson's lawyer told a disciplinary hearing the incident was an innocent lapse of judgment and that a two-day suspension would be punishment enough for a young officer who has already learned from his mistake. The province's police complaint commissioner asked for a suspension of eight to 10 days, while the lawyer for the woman who was pushed called for 15 days.
Robinson was walking along a busy sidewalk with two other officers in June 2010 when Sandy Davidsen, who has multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, approached the trio from the opposite direction.
Security camera footage of the incident shows Davidsen, who walks with an unsteady gait, moving between Robinson and one of the other officers. Robinson responds by pushing Davidsen to the ground and then walking away with his colleagues.
Robinson previously admitted he neglected his duty by not checking to see if Davidsen needed help after she fell to the ground, but he denied he abused his authority when he pushed her.
His lawyer, David Crossin, told Monday's hearing that Robinson now takes full responsibility for his actions and admits be abused his authority, leaving the length of the suspension the main issue still left to be decided.
Crossin said Robinson incorrectly believed Davidsen had attempted to grab his firearm and then overreacted, but he said the officer never intended to harm the woman.
"What he was realizing after was the obvious: he had misapprehended what had taken place; he had made a mistake," said Crossin.
Crossin said Robinson attempted to visit Davidsen at her home to apologize in person, but she declined the offer. Robinson later apologized in writing, but Davidsen's lawyer said she didn't believe the apology was genuine.
He said the two-day suspension already proposed by the Vancouver Police Department would be "just and fair."
Lawyer Michael Tammen, who represents the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, said a suspension of eight to 10 days would reflect the seriousness of the offence.
"It's a meaningful suspension for the officer to reflect on his conduct ... and for others to understand that there will be consequences for serious beaches of the public trust," Tammen told an adjudicator.
"That's what this was: a serious breach of the public trust."
Davidsen's lawyer proposed a 15-day suspension.
The case is complicated by the fact that the province's Police Act was updated in early 2010 to increase the potential punishments officers can face. Previously, the maximum suspension was five days, now the maximum is 30 days.
The incident prompted a series of investigations and complaints. In addition to the discipline process, Davidsen filed a human rights complaint, which has since been settled, and Robinson faced an assault charge, which was eventually stayed by the Crown.
It also raised questions about the Vancouver Police Department's approach to the Downtown Eastside, which has a concentration of low-income residents, many with issues related to physical health, mental health or addiction.
Tammen urged adjudicator Wally Oppal, a former attorney general and retired B.C. Appeal Court Judge, to recommend the Vancouver Police Department revise its policies to keep rookie officers out of the area.
Robinson had only graduated from his police training about six months before the incident and the officers he was with had been on the force for a few years each.
Tammen said Oppal should recommend officers with fewer than three or five years of experience shouldn't be deployed in the Downtown Eastside, or if they are, they should be paired with far more experienced officers for mentoring.
Tammen also said the force should ensure officers deployed in the neighbourhood receive "complete training and orientation respecting the challenges of effective policing in the Downtown Eastside."
Crossin said the Vancouver police force's staffing policies for the Downtown Eastside have changed but he did not offer specifics.
Oppal, who recently oversaw a public inquiry into the Robert Pickton serial killer case, which focused heavily on how police operate in the Downtown Eastside, invited the Vancouver Police Department to appear before him later this month to address the issue.
A spokesman for the force declined to comment while the complaint process was still underway.
Oppal will decide on Robinson's punishment at a later date.
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