Police went too far, he tells jury in closing argument
He was on the floor of his family home being bombarded with tear gas and gasping for air.
Windows had been smashed out. Noise and light gadgets had been thrown into the house.
RCMP snipers were positioned outside, officers were yelling and trying to break down the back door and police dogs were barking.
In his mind, Leo Crockwell was under attack on Dec. 8, 2010, and had to defend himself and his family’s property, he told the jury Tuesday during closing remarks in his trial at Newfoundland Supreme Court.
“It was a very uncomfortable situation. … He felt an attack on him and that police were trying to render him unconscious,” said Crockwell, oddly referring to himself in the third person.
“(With so much gas), no one else would go inside the house because it was unsafe. But he’s in there.”
Crockwell faces charges of assault with a weapon and uttering threats toward his sister; mischief by interfering with property; carelessly using a firearm and recklessly discharging a firearm.
The latter charge carries a minimum sentence of four years in jail.
Crockwell, who is representing himself, told the jury he didn’t recklessly discharge a firearm.
He said he had no intention of hurting anyone when he fired a shot towards the door on Dec. 8, 2010. Instead, he was aiming at the robot, which was approaching the house.
“It’s wasn’t a situation in which no thought went into it …” he said.
“The shot was a measured one, a calculated one, a defensive one.”
The 57-year-old teared up when he spoke of his family’s house in Bay Bulls and the damage that was caused to it during the eight-day standoff.
“The big question here is how much is enough?” he said
It all could have been avoided, he argued, if the RCMP hadn’t been so aggressive.
“It was all unnecessary,” he said. “No one was in the house with Mr. Crockwell. There were no hostages.”
He contended that if officers had obtained a warrant in the early stages of the standoff, “this would have never happened.”
He said the fact the police had no warrant at first bothered him, since it was key to an incident that happened to him in 1998.
That was the year Crockwell says he was unlawfully detained for about 140 days.
He had been arrested without a warrant at his home, under the Mental Health Act after he allegedly made threats to colleagues at his former workplace, NL Hydro.
He was brought to the Waterford Hospital where he initially refused a psychiatric assessment. He would remain there for more than four months.
After he was eventually examined by two independent psychiatrists who declared him mentally fit, he was released.
It left a bitter taste in his mouth and a mistrust of police officers.
“There was tension from 1998,” he said. “Twelve years later, he’s not moving and not listening to anyone. His thought was basically, get a warrant or get out …
“I had no legal obligation to anyone at that stage.”
Crockwell argued that the RCMP breached the law by using excessive force, waiting four days to get a warrant, damaging his family’s property and wilfully allowing the event to unfold.
“They were destroying the house with gas and water …,” said Crockwell, who eventually escaped through a window, slipping past officers.
“So (the RCMP figures), charge him so we don’t have to pay the damages.”
Crockwell also pointed out there were too many inconsistencies in testimony of the dozens of officers who took the stand during the trial.
Some remember two shots being fired, some recall one. There were different versions of what happened on Dec. 8, 2010, and different recollections about the robot.
“Every inconsistency is a reason for reasonable doubt,” Crockwell said.
He said there were also questions about what happened on Dec. 4, 2010, the day the standoff began.
Crockwell’s sister, Catherine, and mother, Margaret, testified he had been acting odd in the days prior.
On the morning of Dec. 4, Margaret said she came downstairs only to find the kitchen blocked off with furniture. Leo was sitting with a wet towel over his head and a gun in his hand. He asked her about a man upstairs. There wasn’t one.
Crockwell suggested he might have been drugged, but didn’t say how and by whom.
“It came on so fast,” said Crockwell, who described himself as feeling feverish and acting irrationally.
He said he doesn’t accept that it was due to mental illness.
He also argued he didn’t assault his sister with a gun. He said when she ran outside, she fell down, then got up and went over to the neighbours, who were outside.
When he told Catherine he would “waste her away,” he said she took it as something a brother would say and that she didn’t feel threatened.
He was adamant that he didn’t chase the women out of the house.
He said after his mother and sister left, the RCMP immediately deemed it an emergency situation. Crockwell said his mother and sister could have come back, but weren’t given the opportunity to do so by police, who feared for their safety.
St. John’s lawyer Randy Piercey, who is acting as amicus (meditator) in the trial, had the last word for the jury.
He complimented Crockwell on hitting several key points in his defence and agreed there seemed to be a lack of evidence on some of the charges.
He reminded jury members that the burden of proof lies with the Crown, which must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Crockwell did what he’s accused of doing.
Piercey recommended that jury members try to understand what was going on in Crockwell’s mind on the night of Dec. 8, 2010.
With all the commotion that night, “Is it unreasonable for the man on the floor to think his life was in danger?
“Therefore, was it unreasonable for the man to shoot? (The Crown) has to prove it wasn’t.”
Justice Richard LeBlanc will give his final instructions to jury members Thursday. They will then be sequestered until they reach a verdict.
The verdict will be decided by only 11 jury members. Early Tuesday the judge granted a request by one female juror to be excused. The reason wasn’t stated in court.