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Good Samaritan sues cop, OPP over attack

By Tracy McLaughlin, Special to Postmedia Network

Tonie Farrell (Tracy McLaughlin)

Tonie Farrell (Tracy McLaughlin)

ORILLIA - 

An Orillia grandmother who suffered “catastrophic” injuries in an altercation with a police officer has launched a $4-million lawsuit against the cop and the OPP, saying she’s “fed up” with waiting for justice.

Russell Watson, of the Orillia OPP, is named in the suit for his “attack” on Maria "Tonie" Farrell who suffered a crushed knee, broken tibia and spinal injuries in an April 2, 2013 incident.

“The actions of Sgt. Watson were harsh, vindictive, unprofessional, reprehensible, malicious and extreme,” claims the statement, filed in the Superior Court of Justice. The claim also alleges Watson “tackled,” “karate kicked” and “sucker punched” the woman for no reason.

Last December, a provincial court judge slammed the actions of the officer who tried — but failed — to have her convicted for assaulting him. After a year of hobbling to court on crutches, Farrell, 48, a former Tim Hortons cashier, was found not guilty.

During the trial, Watson testified Farrell assaulted him by grabbing the lapel on his patrol jacket. But the judge didn’t believe him.

“Sgt. Watson provided no explanation as to how Ms. Farrell’s tibia was broken, or indeed, the reasons for the bruises on her legs, arms and the loss of a tooth,” Provincial Court Justice George Beatty said in his ruling. “Ms. Farrell was acting as a Good Samaritan ... She wanted to assist Sgt. Watson in identifying the assailants.”

Farrell was still in her Tim’s uniform that night when she heard the screams of a woman being assaulted behind a convenience store, court heard. She ran to help the woman and when Watson arrived on scene, alone, she frantically tried to point out the assailants who ran off, the trial was told.

Farrell said the officer told her to “shut the f--- up,” then karate kicked her, causing her to fall and smack her head on pavement, according to evidence presented at the trial.

“I was screaming in agony,” Farrell said in an interview, alleging the officer then “started stomping on me.”

Wailing in pain, her leg dangling, she was handcuffed and put into the back of a cruiser, according to Farrell’s statement of claim. She was then taken to hospital where she had the first of several surgeries to repair her leg and knee.

In a foggy, pain-filled state when she came out of the anesthetic, she learned she was being charged with assault, the claim said.

“I was overwhelmed ... I had never been charged before — I had never even been in a courtroom before. My world turned upside down,” she said.

The lawsuit claims the officer laid a “false” and “malicious” prosecution against Farrell to avoid being charged.

“He caused a criminal prosecution against the plaintiff in order to discredit her ... to protect himself from allegations of wrongdoing,” the claim alleges. “He deliberately misstated the events in his notes in hopes of securing a conviction (against Farrell).”

The claim also alleged Watson has a history of using excessive force and blamed the OPP for negligence.

“It (the OPP) knew or ought to have known that Sgt. Watson had a history of using excessive or unwarranted force,” says the claim. “It failed to identify that Sgt. Watson was a danger to the public when this fact was known or ought to have been known.”

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

Lawyer Darcy Romaine, who represents Farrell, said he is shocked by what happened to his client.

“This was a Tim Hortons cashier who was trying to help somebody,” he insisted.

Farrell said she lives with daily pain from her leg, neck and spinal injuries. After one year on crutches, she now walks with a cane but needs a scooter outdoors.

“My life has changed,” she said in an interview. “Every hour I’m in pain, my leg can’t bend. I can’t even lift up my little grandchildren.”

As a cashier, she earned $197 a week and kept a small apartment. Now, unable to work, she has moved to her elderly parents’ home.

The province’s Special Investigations Unit found “no reasonable grounds” to lay charges against the officer. However, after the judge’s ruling made headlines, the SIU announced it ordered transcripts of the trial and will review the case.

Outraged that the officer was never charged, several of Farrell’s friends and other members of the public have lobbied in front of the OPP headquarters with large posters.

Meanwhile, Watson remains in good standing as a police officer. A photograph that hangs on a wall at the local Legion, entitled “Words Are Not Enough,” shows Watson in uniform with a group of other officers who served in Afghanistan. Watson was a liaison with the military and helped in the training of police officers in Afghanistan in 2011.

Watson could not be reached for comment despite attempts to reach him by telephone.

OPP have refused to comment on the case. No statements of defence have yet been filed with the courts.



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