2009 incident still before RNC complaints commission

Barb Sweet & Steve Bartlett
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The Telegram

A Mount Pearl mother is frustrated at the length of time a complaint against the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) is taking and says she feels weighed down against the legal representation on the officers' side.

Diane Spurrell's son, Dane, was arrested April 18, 2009, when he was 18. Two RNC officers mistook his autism for public intoxication. During that time he was not allowed to call home.

Then-police chief Joe Browne apologized to Dane Spurrell and his mother.

The complaint was subsequently filed with the RNC Public Complaints Commission, and discussions on the process for a hearing began in fall 2010.

Proceedings finally commenced in June 2011 and it's still before the commission.

"It was determined that a total of seven lawyers would be required to participate in those proceedings," the commission's most recent annual activity report states.

"The courtroom schedules and obligations of seven lawyers impacted the timeliness of scheduling dates for hearings."

None of those lawyers are representing Dane Spurrell, although his mother said the commission's lawyer, Peter O'Flaherty, is doing a good job in his role. The commission lawyer acts for the public interest.

The commission doesn't pay legal bills of either party, but either the complainants or police defendants are entitled to bring their own counsel.

The process isn't fair when the complainant - her son - can't afford a lawyer, she noted.

"Either everyone gets lawyers or nobody gets lawyers," Spurrell said. "If I had a lawyer to counter (the police) lawyers, it would work better."

She said her son did receive a settlement from the RNC, but that was set aside for his future and Spurrell doesn't think she should be forced to use that money to pay legal bills.

The hearing has consumed much of her time since it began.

"What bothers me in all of this is that my son, in my opinion, did nothing wrong. ... These two officers have adequate counsel," Spurrell said.

Dane Spurrell was on his way home from renting a movie late on a Saturday night when he was stopped by police.

The officers, who Spurrell said thought her son was drunk, arrested him and took him to the lockup.

After the incident, Spurrell said, the police officers should have been able to tell that Dane was physically different because he has a chromosomal abnormality and his appearance should have given the officers an idea about his condition.

Parties on all sides hope the hearing will finally conclude in December.

The adjudicator's report is expected within 90 days after the hearing concludes.

Spurrell said she's articulate and able to follow the proceedings, but some people might not be in the same position. But she said it's still not fair for her and her son.

"They are armed with a lot more knowledge of the law than we are," she said. "They know how to use it, I suppose."

She said she never imagined that it would take this long.

"I was quite appalled," said Spurrell, who blamed the officers' legal counsel for what she describes as delaying tactics.

"(Dane) is the victim in all this. ... (The police) are hoping we will give up."

She said a lengthy delay was caused by the officers' counsel requesting her son's medical records.

Spurrell noted lawyer Bob Simmonds - who now represents an officer in the complaints process - spoke out in the media after the incident in 2009 about police needing better judgment.

Simmonds said scheduling all the private practice lawyers involved is difficult and that's bogged down the process.

He said there have been a number of legal and technical issues that have come up, including items that have required further research, and he acknowledged frustration on everyone's part, especially anyone not used to the legal process.

"It's no one's fault," he said.

Simmonds has been involved in a number of matters before the complaints commission and said the Spurrell matter is one of the longest. He described the incident as the coming together of "very unfortunate events."

O'Flaherty has one more witness and then lawyers for the officers will present their evidence.

bsweet@thetelegram.com

Organizations: RNC Public Complaints Commission

Geographic location: Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • Dane
    November 13, 2012 - 17:23

    I was out to get Nintendo Wii Points that night and I got to the store to late and at 12:18am I was spotted by the female police officer, from there that`s when problems started, her help arrived shortly after and I was hoping he would help me since she didn't seem to care what I said and she claimed I was out in the ( Middle ) of the road, I was on the ( Side ) of the road and walking where I was allowed to there was no real side walk since it just cuts off into dirt and grass as far as I see it I got half of what I asked for and I would like the other half but they don`t want to give it to me so as far as I see it, it`s done and over with for me and the hearing means nothing to me you can break my windows as many times as you would like as long as you pay for them she started it all and everyone else more or less blindly fallowed that`s all for now bye bye

    • saltheart
      November 14, 2012 - 13:38

      Dane, don't think about some of the heartless comments made here, people like the officer have tunnel vision, they will only see bad in every situation because they are bitter that they never done better in their lives, keep your head up and stand tall, you have done nothing wrong

  • crista
    November 12, 2012 - 17:56

    why is it the government will not let us speak out and tell society what went on and what is going on what are they afraid of if they done no wrong why are they stopping us from telling society what is going on and what went on they have been treating us like bill29 for years people died and almost died over this what we are talking about we have no rights,they were asked to do investagations they say NO,we told them we did not want there money,we tried to put a book out ,not allowed law society no, bar society no,where we went the answer was no.and what we are saying is nothing to what went on???? where are our charter and freedoms so why do some give bad advice or is bad advice????

  • saltheart
    November 12, 2012 - 13:51

    i can't belive people are not behind the spurrell family, it is unbelievable that they arrested this man because they thought he was impaired, so the lesson here is, if you are impaired you can't walk home because you could be arrested,the problem here is that we have two police officiers that abused their power or privalige, this is the real issue for me, the abuse of power that these people can use, easily with no recourse of retribution, i had an incident in mt pearl where a lady officier used a cutting off manuver on me and was really quite the snot with her arrogance in the way she spoke to me in the car, luckily my mid 80's year parents were in the car and witness's because she could give me a ticket for any reason she wanted i was so shaken over the tactic where i had to come to a screeching halt and was concerned for the safety and health of my parents that if it wasn't for them calming me down i would probably have gotten arrested on that day, her excuse was that we were both a little confused, yes i was confused, taking my parents to the supermarket and all of a sudden a police cruiser cuts in front of you, puts on its lights, i believe it was a case of mistaken identity, right color car wrong make or something, but the story is she could have given me a ticket for anything and what recourse do you have, even if you done no wrong. this complaints commission,

  • crista
    November 12, 2012 - 13:43

    we went to the commission process in1997 and we are still waiting to have it dealt with one case not just one my advise to these people is get to talk to russell at the telegram and try to get a federal inquiry like we tried and was turned down not only by one government or they could talk frazer march and get him to tell you how bad????they are because they are that corrupt,and if you only knew where your hard tax paying dollars and how they are beening spent and how justice is beening served you would want an inquiry your self????

  • crista
    November 12, 2012 - 11:16

    justice!!!!

  • Bethany
    November 11, 2012 - 23:44

    Mrs. Squirrel, the RNC issued an apology and a cash settlement. And yet you want more, pretty greedy don't you think.

    • Jack
      November 14, 2012 - 10:08

      Bethany, an apology is only worth it if the RNC took responsibility for their actions. However, since the RNC officers involved in the Dane Spurrell arrested were cleared of wrong doing, their apology is worthless as actions speak louder than words. I also watched Diane Spurrell's interview on the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, including a tape recording involving Dane and the RNC officers on April 19, 2009, and it clearly proves that the police did treat Dane poorly and unprofessionally. Bethany, apologies are only good if action is taken to correct their wrongs. In light of the Chesley Earle case, they didn't learn from their mistakes.

  • Shar
    November 11, 2012 - 20:01

    It's my understanding that the government (not rnc) will often give "settlements" to make nuisances go away. Maybe this was the case? I think your 15 mins were up a long time ago Ms. Spurrell. Why are you back in the media?

  • Timothy D. Garrett
    November 11, 2012 - 19:37

    Dane and Ms. Spurrell should be commended for their patience and tenacity. From the comments below I sense that some feel the matter is resolved and should be swept in the bin and all be done with it. Comparing what happened to Mr. Spurrell with someone climbing an electric tower, being injured and then seeking money is not only rude but is dwarfed in ludicrousness by this publication posting the comment. I would hope another individual would reread the entire article a realize that Mr. Spurrell's first name is Dane not Dana. That being said, the citizenry of Newfoundland should be more alarmed over the fact that this incident occurred in early 2009 and it is now late 2012. Based on past performance, it looks as if it will go in to early 2013 before being finalized. Mr. Spurrell was arrested and incarcerated over night for intoxication without the benefit of a breathalyzer or BAT (blood alcohol test) and denied the right to call anyone but a lawyer. It seems to me the only individuals that keep a lawyer's number in the Rolodex in their head are those with constant need for one and 9 out of 10 times the lawyer's area of expertise would be criminal defense. That being said, no one should criticize Mr. Spurrell's right to have his legitimate complaint handled in a timely fashion. Making the complaint is the only recourse Mr. Spurrell has. For one moment, place yourself in Mr. Spurrell's shoes and think about how you would feel or deal with a system that arrests and jails you for something you didn't do. If you can't do that, then put yourself in his mother's shoes and think about how you would feel if this was done to your child or for that matter any family member. Seven lawyers on ONE side of an issue bring home the opinion that any time lawyers are involved, the only ones that benefit are the lawyers. Maybe Shakespeare did have a point when he wrote in Hamlet that famous line of Dick the Butcher.

    • Bethany
      November 12, 2012 - 19:06

      @timothy. If I were in that situation I wouldn't have NOT ACCEPTED the settlement, but I guess all the squirrels see's is dollar signs.

    • Timothy D. Garrett
      November 14, 2012 - 10:16

      @bethany. The process in place allows for a complaint to heard and addressed. Dragging out the process for 3+ years is reprehensible. It not only undermines the process but causes undue hardship on the complainant. Separate from any monetary settlement is the question of procedure, policy and the fact that an individual's rights were denied. We only have those rights which we can defend. Instead of resorting to immature name calling, I would think your time would be better spent picking up a grammar book and realizing your use of a double negative states that you would have accepted the settlement. In addition, what you wouldn't have not done is immaterial to the situation. You were not in that situation and I pray that you nor any of your loved ones ever are.

  • Sam
    November 11, 2012 - 18:45

    Irrespective of any settlement made by the RNC, a serious misjudgment is alleged involving the rights and freedom of an innocent victim. We provide police officers with enormous authority and they must expect nothing less than full accountability for their actions. This investigation is fully warranted and necessary.

  • KD
    November 11, 2012 - 17:51

    From my experience the police officers are above the law wether they recieved a settlement, an apology doesnt make one bit of difference if the officers involved doesnt recieve some form of discipline then the crazy show goes on

  • Bernie
    November 11, 2012 - 15:27

    Go to legal aid like anyone else who cannot afford a lawyer. Why should my tax dollars pay for a lawyer for you whether it is right or wrong is irrelevant

    • Margie Jean
      November 11, 2012 - 22:28

      Bernie, who do you think pays for legal aids wages? The tooth fairy?

  • Duffy
    November 11, 2012 - 15:24

    The Police Department should be ashme of the time delays and do what they need to change the process. The mouthpieces.well the longer they delay a preocess the more people forget and stop caring and then just go away. The problem is the lawyers who in my opinion have no concern for right or wrong only in getting off their clients.

  • Joe Moran
    November 11, 2012 - 14:56

    Wait let me get this straight. The RNC gave her a settlement. Yet she still wants it brought before the court. Something wrong there. It's almost as bad as when that young fella electrocuted himself by breaking into a power station across from the old stadium climbing the tower and grabbing a wire. Nl power gave them a settlement yet they still wanted more money.

  • Concerned citizen
    November 11, 2012 - 13:21

    Ms. Spurrell, I commend you for standing up for whats right. IT Is only when people like you don't back down that something might be changed. I and a lot of other people were not aware that the police had taken any responsbiility for their actions nor were we aware of a settlement by the police department not the actual officers. It is time for police officers to be accountable for their actions as are private citizens.

  • harry
    November 11, 2012 - 12:37

    dont the polise know the smell of alcohol if he was drunk im sure there would be a smell and bloodshot eyes , wonder how many get away with impaired driving because of the lack of plugged noses

  • Whaddaya At ?
    November 11, 2012 - 10:22

    When the stakes are high, get the best that money can buy. Guess that's why one of the police officers has retained Bob Simmonds.

  • Pat
    November 11, 2012 - 09:52

    When I read this article, I am wondering what exactly does Dana want from this investigation. Obviously, the RNC have admitted fault by awarding her son financial compensation! The two officers were doing their job to protect the public. Unless one wears a medic alert bracelet, not everyone will know the particular challenges of an individual. My opinion: Stop wasting public funds and move on with you life Dana. I bet your son has already done so! It was a mistake. We do not fire people for an error in judgement. I am sure the officers have learned from this, so just let it be!

  • Political Watcher
    November 11, 2012 - 09:39

    Considering that Mount Pearl has two and a half sitting MHA's in Gov't one would think they would be able to offer some assistance to the lady. By virture of an apology, the RNC has admitted fault here and a final resolution should be easy to arrive at. Come on Kent, Lane and half an MHA Davis, step up and do what people elected you for and represent them.

  • saelcove
    November 11, 2012 - 09:05

    Police can do what ever that want with no recourse

  • Gerry
    November 11, 2012 - 08:44

    if true; just goes to show people in this country are viewed as equal; just some more than others: & in my 'uneducated opinion' especially if one has the cash and time to affrd a high-priced lawyer....

  • Just a thought...
    November 11, 2012 - 08:37

    Ms. Spurrell, I totally agree with you that the two officers involved obviously need to be better trained and a heck of a lot more observant. How they mistook Dane's issues for signs of impairment I'll never know. BUT, the RNC have settled a lawsuit and admitted wrong doing! Provided that they have taken this extremely unfortunate incident and learned from it to make every other officer better trained for the future, what do you hope to gain from continuing this very frustrating process! Perhaps you should ask the RNC Chief to order the two involved officers to come spend an afternoon with Dane and you, have some open dialogue and a cup of tea/coffee and a few cookies, and let Dane gain some trust back. Not sure if this would work for Dane due to his issues, but it might give you more satisfaction/peace of mind than the process you're now involved with!

  • original townie
    November 11, 2012 - 08:34

    Ms. Spurrell.....you and your family received both an apology and settlement. What more are you actually looking for?

    • Jack
      November 14, 2012 - 10:04

      Original Townie, as a person with Autism myself, you're obviously not too bright in the thinking department. If you read between the lines, while the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary did apologize to the Spurrell family, they recanted their apology as officers involved in the Spurrell incident were cleared of wrong doing, meaning that the apology is not worth the weight. However, if you visited the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador website this morning and watched the Diane Spurrell interview towards the end, Dane plays a tape recording proving that the RNC Officer did act unprofessionally as he/she used foul language and verbal abuse towards Dane. Secondly, a financial settlement under the law is not an admission of guilt, and the Michael Jackson sexual assault cases clearly prove it as he was found not guilty of all charges in 2005. Therefore, based on the verbal evidence from the tape recording, it clearly proves that Dane was telling the truth all along, and the RNC are the true liars (excuse the oxymoron) in this case. To watch Diane Spurrell's CBC Newfoundland and Labrador interview, visit their news story "Mother still seeking justice for autistic son" at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2012/11/13/nl-1114-mother-autistic-son-police.html