Defence questions tactics of RNC in sting gone wrong

Josh Pennell
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Defence lawyer Ken Mahoney spent Wednesday afternoon in provincial court attempting to jigger holes into the testimonies of a pair of RNC officers.

Justin Michael Chipman sits in court. His trial starts this week in relation to charges including several of assaulting a peace officer. — Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram

The court case involving Justin Chipman centres around a February RNC sting operation that went sideways. RNC officers were attempting to catch Chipman breaking into vehicles in the MUN Field House parking lot. An arrest was made, but not before an RNC officer fired a shot from his revolver as Chipman escaped, the stolen vehicle Chipman was driving was found torched, and officers surrounded a St. John’s house for two hours before arresting Chipman, who was inside.

Chipman is facing several charges of assaulting a peace officer and assault with a weapon. His lawyer is arguing that his client’s Charter rights were violated when police used excessive force and also conducted an illegal arrest at and search of his home.

Mahoney spent time cross examining RNC Const. Barry Reynolds. Reynolds was one of the officers who discovered Chipman’s torched Chevy Equinox and, more important to the case, was one of the officers who arrested Chipman at 75A Rotary Dr.

According to Reynolds, after a period of having the house surrounded, he was by the main door to the residence. He said he was calling out, telling Chipman the house was surrounded and that he was to come out with his hands up. Reynolds also said he was rapping on the door with the end of his flashlight. He saw movement behind a blanket covering the window on at least one occasion.

Eventually, he said, he saw the handle of the door start to turn. He said he put his hand on the handle so he would have some control over the situation, and as the door swung in, he could see Chipman inside with his hands raised, but the accused started backing up away from the porch light and into the darkness. At this point, Reynolds said, Const. Justin Parsons went inside and put his hand on the back of Chipman’s neck, and Chipman lost his balance and ended up on the floor. Reynolds said he then got on Chipman with his full weight. He was then arrested and put in the back of an RNC vehicle. He said officers made sure the house was secure by checking each room.

Mahoney asked if there was a warrant to go into Chipman’s residence and arrest him. Though there were warrants out for his arrest, a specific type of warrant is needed to enter his home without his invitation. Reynolds said they didn’t have that type of warrant. When asked if they had a warrant to search Chipman’s residence, he also answered no. Reynolds said he and the other officers made the best decision they could at the time.

Mahoney also cross examined Const. Chris Harnum, who was at MUN Field House when the first attempt to arrest Chipman was made earlier that same night. Harnum testified that when Chipman discovered the RNC was waiting for him, he jumped in a Chevy Equinox and started whipping around the parking lot over and over at a high rate of speed, before eventually got stuck in a snowbank.

Harnum said he tried the doors of the car, but they were locked, and another officer tried to smash the window with the butt of his service revolver but was unsuccessful. Harnum said the tires of the vehicle were spinning and smoking and the car was rocking back and forth as Chipman attempted to get free. When he did, he veered toward another officer who fired a single shot from his revolver, Harnum said.

Mahoney asked Harnum if he knew that a surveillance camera on the corner of the Field House — a camera that would have recorded the whole incident — was not working before they started the operation. Harnum said they did, as they had asked for any camera surveillance help they could get from the campus police.

Mahoney will continue to cross examine Harnum today.

Organizations: Field House, RNC Const.

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