Crockwell seen as safety risk from start

Rosie
Rosie Gillingham
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First RCMP officers on the scene testify during second day of trial

Leo Crockwell of Bay Bulls was back in Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's Friday for the second day of his trial. - Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

The Crockwell house in Bay Bulls was quiet when they got there and no gun shots had been fired.

But the first RCMP officers to arrive had no intentions of knocking on the door to try to talk to Leo Crockwell.

After all, both Const. Terry Briffett and Const. Michael Husk said they had heard Crockwell was distraught and had firearms.

They immediately had concerns about public safety, as well as their own.

"I didn't believe it was safe for me or anybody to go up to the door," Husk said Friday while testifying in the second day of Crockwell's jury trial at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John's.

Briffett reiterated that point when he took the stand.

"I've got a family to go home to at the end of the day," Briffett said.

It was Dec. 4, 2010, and was the start of what would be an eight-day standoff, which saw police use many methods - including negotiators, a robot, tear gas, water and a battering ram - to try to lure Crockwell out of the house.

It ended Dec. 11, 2010, when Crockwell was arrested by Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers at a house on Petty Harbour Road, more than 20 kilometres away from Bay Bulls.

He had managed to escape through a side window in the house, which had been watched by a slew of RCMP officers.

He's been behind bars since then.

The 57-year-old has pleaded not guilty to eight charges - assault, assault with a weapon, uttering threats, mischief by inferring with the lawful use of property, discharging a firearm, possessing a firearm without a licence, careless use of a firearm and reckless use of a firearm. Charges of attempted murder were dropped five months after he was arrested.

Briffett first responded to a complaint from a neighbour, stating Crockwell had assaulted his own sister and forced her and their mother out of their house.

When Briffett spoke with Crockwell's sister, he said she told him Crockwell had a mental health condition. She said he had been acting strangely for days and that he had firearms.

Briffett didn't want to go on the property, but said he did try to call Crockwell, both on his cellphone and at the house. There was no answer at either number.

Briffett said Crockwell's brother showed up and told officers he believed Crockwell was paranoid schizophrenic.

He said his brother had worked at Newfoundland Hydro, but was let go due to his mental illness.

Briffett said he called RCMP dispatch, as well as the RNC, to inquire if Crockwell had ever been a patient at the Waterford Hospital, but information was unavailable.

He said Crockwell's brother also told him about a Public Complaints Commission decision, relating to a 1998 incident, in which Crockwell was unlawfully detained.

"We decided we better shut down the road (to traffic in front of the house)," said Briffett, who said he was concerned about the potential risk Crockwell could pose to people in the area.

Briffett said all information was passed on to a staff sergeant, who made the decisions after that.

He said his role, as well as Husk's role, was minimal once more officers, including the emergency response team (ERT), were deployed to the scene.

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Ken Mahoney asked both Briffett and Husk if they knew about snipers, a spike belt on the property and the audio-visual link set up by RCMP at the house. Both said they were not privy to the ERT's plans.

The trial resumes with more police evidence Tuesday.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: RCMP, Crockwell house, Newfoundland Hydro Waterford Hospital Public Complaints Commission

Geographic location: Bay Bulls, St. John's, Petty Harbour Road

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