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Officers plead guilty, sentenced on assault charges

By Kevin Anderson, The Northern Times

 Two James Bay Detachment OPP officers, who were facing multiple charges related to a May 18, 2016, incident, were sentenced in the Ontario Court of Justice in Kapuskasing on Friday.

OPP Cst. Kenny Belanger, Kenny Belanger, a six-year-veteran of the OPP who worked out of the Kapuskasing detachment, had been charged with and pleaded guilty to two counts of Assault with a Weapon, contrary to section 267 (a) of the Criminal Code of Canada.
OPP Acting Sergeant Daniel Lafontaine, a nine-year veteran of the OPP who worked out of the South Porcupine detachment, was charged with and pleaded guilty to two counts of assault, contrary to section 266 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
The facts as accepted by the court were:
- On the morning of May 18, the two officers were looking for a woman, who was involved in a stabbing incident earlier in the day with the intent of arresting her.
- They initially attended 118 Riverside Dr. and were advised the woman they were looking for could be found at 110 Riverside Dr.
- The two officers attended 110 Riverside Dr. where they were met by the male victim, who was the boyfriend of the female victim. He directed the officers to the rear door of the residence. At that time, Acting Sgt. Lafontaine asked the male victim if the woman they were looking for was at the residence.
- The male victim stated on more than one occasion that the woman that the officers were looking for was not at the residence.
- The officers saw a young female at the residence and asked the male victim who she was. The male indicated the young female was his girlfriend (who, it is worth noting, bore the same first name as they woman they were looking for).
- The victim was 15 years old at the time, while the woman they were looking for was 23 years old.
- The officers told the male victim they wanted to check on the well being of the female in the residence.
- The female victim attended at the door with an infant in her arms. She was directed to hand the infant over to the male victim and she complied.
- At that point, Acting Sergeant Lafontaine stepped into the residence and grabbed the female victim. Eventually assisted by Cst. Belanger, they pulled the female victim from the residence as she actively resisted their attempts to do so.
- In the meantime, the male victim went to wake up the female victim’s uncle, who was resting upstairs in the residence. 
- The female victim’s uncle could clearly here his niece repeatedly telling the accused she was not the person they were looking for and could see them bringing her toward a police vehicle at the end of the driveway.
- At this point the male victim attempted to intervene in order to assist the female victim.
- The officers retrieved their tasers and started yelling, “Get down”.
- The female victim’s uncle was outside attempting to advise the officers that the female victim had a heart condition.
- Without issuing a proper taser warning, Cst. Belanger tased the male victim, who went to the ground and started shaking.
- The female victim started running toward Cst. Belanger and he tased her. She fell to the ground and she could not get up. She could be heard crying out: “My Heart!” She was tased a total of three times.
- As he continued to try to advise Cst. Belanger of his niece’s heart condition, Cst. Belanger told the girl’s uncle to back off or he would be next.
- The male victim was eventually handcuffed by acting Sgt. Lafontaine, while Cst. Belanger completed the handcuffing of the female victim. They were both transported to hospital in order to remove the taser prongs.
- While at the hospital Acting Sergeant Lafontaine directed another officer to take a picture of the female victim and show it to the complainant of the stabbing incident for identification purposes. It was at that time that the complainant from the earlier incident advised officers that the photo of the female victim of the tasing was not the woman, who had stabbed her. Acting Sergeant Lafontaine apologized to the female victim, and then advised her that she would be charged with resisting arrest. As it turns out, this was not the case, as both victims had been wrongfully detained and arrested and were within their legal rights to resist with reasonable force.
- The facts also disclosed that neither of the officers conducted an RMS check with regards to the identity of the woman they were intending to arrest prior to the arrest of the male and female victims. Neither of the officers asked the female tasing victim for her identification. The female victim was also not informed of her rights during the arrest.
- The officers were not invited into the house.
- Only Cst. Belanger deployed his taser.
- The female victim had agreed to accompany the officers willingly but changed her mind.
- Cst. Belanger said the scene was chaotic and that he did not hear anyone warn him of the female victim’s heart condition.
- Both officers’ notes were not accurate as were their respective reports, and were deliberately false and misleading and designed to mitigate if not eradicate any hint of wrongdoing.
As a result of his conviction on the first count of assault with a weapon, Cst. Belanger received a two-year suspended sentence including two years of probation, 240 hrs. of community service to be served within the first 18 mos. of probation, counseling as recommended by the probation officer, a five-year weapons prohibition, will be required to provide a DNA sample for the DNA database and to pay victim fine surcharges within 60 days. The second count of assault with a weapon carried the same sentence.
Both of Cst. Belanger’s sentences will be served concurrently.
“I accept that the actions of Cst. Belanger were out of character for him and that he is genuinely remorseful for his actions,” said the presiding Justice. “I also accept that at the time of the incident, Cst. Belanger was suffering from undiagnosed mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder. “However, Cst. Belanger was in breach of trust in executing his duties as a police officer. Both officers are responsible for the victims suffering significant physical and emotional distress, the effects of which continue today. Family members have suffered significant emotional distress, which continues to this day. The community of Kashechewan (where both victims are from) has been affected by the actions of the accused.
“Cst. Belanger subverted the course of justice by making false entries and omissions in his notebooks, and by providing false information to mitigate the circumstances surrounding the arrest of the victims."
As a result of the conviction of the first count of simple assault, Acting Sergeant Daniel Lafontaine received a two-year suspended sentence, including two years of probation, 180 hrs. of community service to be served within the first 18 mos. of probation, and will have to provide a DNA sample for the DNA database and pay victim fine and surcharges. The second account of simple assault carried the same sentence.
Acting Sergeant Lafontaine’s legal representative had asked for a conditional discharge as part of his client’s sentence. His request was denied.
His sentences will also run concurrently.
“I accept that the actions of Acting Sergeant Lafontaine were also out of character for him and that he is genuinely remorseful for his actions.
“However, Mr. Lafontaine was the senior officer and has admitted he should have done more to ascertain the true identity of the female victim. By not conducting the simple RMS check, he put both victims in harm’s way. Mr. Lafontaine did not accept the statement of the male victim that the female victim was not the person the officers were looking for. An RMS check would have provided a photo of the female they were looking for. Seeing a young, indigenous female in the residence was enough for Mr. Lafontaine.
“He unlawfully entered the residence. He gave no consideration to a warrant. He unlawfully arrested and detained the female victim. He did not advise the victims of their right to counsel. It does not appear the victims received any cautions, nor were they appropriately advised as to the reason for their arrest.
“The investigative shortcuts used by Mr. Lafontaine must be clearly denounced by this court. While I acknowledge Mr. Lafontaine did not discharge his taser that day, it was his unlawful conduct that created this unfortunate chain of events.
“His breach of trust did not end with the discovery he had arrested the wrong person. He set out to subvert the court of justice by providing false information in the preparation of his notes and to his superior officer. These are core duties of a police officer. Of particular concern are the entries that suggest:
1- He was invited into the residence. This is false.
2- That he conducted an RMS check prior to attending the residence, which he did not.
3- That Mr. Belanger shouted the command “taser taser” before deploying his weapon against the male victim. No such warning was given.
4- That the male victim was running aggressively at Cst. Belanger when he deployed his taser on him. That was clearly inaccurate.
“When I consider the circumstances of the offences, together with the officer’s attempt to deliver false information regarding the investigation, I come to the conclusion that a conditional discharge would be contrary to public interest.”
The Crown had asked for public apologies from both officers to the victims and their respective families, but decided to forego that condition after both officers stood up in court and formally apologized during submissions and the reading of victim impact statements on Thursday afternoon.
“It is truly unfortunate that the female victim feels that the officers were not listening to her because she was indigenous,” said the judge. “Hopefully the victims, their families and their community will be able to continue with the healing process.”
The future of both officers’ careers as police officers will be determined in a future hearing with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Professional Standards Bureau (PSB).