A North Vancouver RCMP officer has been found not guilty of assaulting a suspect while the man was in handcuffs on the ground, following a trial in provincial court.
North Vancouver provincial court Judge Joanne Challenger acquitted North Vancouver RCMP Const. Hirday Olak of the charge in a decision handed down Monday (July 26).
Challenger said while she thought Olak “probably did lay hands on” the suspect Nicholas Hutton during an arrest in October 2019, the police officers on the scene gave conflicting versions of what they’d seen that night, leaving room for “reasonable doubt” that an assault had taken place.
Prosecutors had alleged that after handcuffing the suspect, Olak applied unnecessary force during the arrest.
During the trial, which took place before a judge alone, two North Vancouver RCMP officers who were on the scene that night testified they saw Olak quickly punch or “jab” at the suspect with a closed fist while he was lying on the ground in handcuffs.
But two other police officers testified they did not see anything like that, Challenger noted in her decision, while another officer said he saw Olak do something completely different – applying “knee strikes” to the suspect after he was handcuffed.
During the trial, the police officers described how the incident began shortly after midnight on Oct. 8, 2019, with a report of a suspect alleged to have been breaking into vehicles. One member of the public who confronted the suspect told police dispatchers he believed the suspect was carrying a knife.
Police spotted the suspect and chased him into a wooded area near Main Street and Brooksbank Avenue.
Officers described struggling to put handcuffs on a suspect – later identified as Hutton.
A subsequent search of the suspect revealed he had been carrying a large machete.
All of the officers who testified agreed the situation was one of high risk, said Challenger.
Olak testified when he saw the weapon, he knelt next to the suspect and swore at him, asking what he was doing with a knife like that.
The judge noted, “He agreed he used an aggressive tone and profanity. ... He acknowledged that he had not acted appropriately.”
In handing down her decision, Challenger described Olak’s version of events as “improbable,” noting none of the other witnesses saw him approach the suspect in that manner.
In contrast, Const. Cynthia Stevens, an officer who described seeing quick “jabs” from Olak, was a forthright witness who “saw something happen that was a concern to her,” said Challenger.
“I find her evidence to be reliable, and likely the most accurate account of the events,” the judge said, but noted there were still inconsistencies between her evidence and that of another officer, Const. Jonathan Poon, who said he also saw the strikes.
“Although trained observers, this matter illustrates the ability of experienced police officers to perceive and recollect rapidly unfolding events in situations of high emotion suffers from the same frailties as all humans in this regard,” she said.
Challenger said if she were allowed to speculate about what most likely happened that night, “I would find the accused grabbed hold of Mr. Hutton’s clothes and shook him.”
However, there remained reasonable doubt that Olak jabbed the suspect with his fist, she said.
Olak, a 35-year-old Burnaby resident, who has been a member of the RCMP since 2014, was placed on desk duty until January 2021 while an internal RCMP investigation was conducted.
He has since been permitted to return to regular duties.