Witnesses at Justin Chipman’s trial Tuesday testified they didn’t hear police identify themselves during a February sting operation that saw an officer fire his gun at Chipman’s SUV — with one witness testifying the shot was fired before Chipman drove away.
The St. John’s man faces four counts each of assault with a weapon and assaulting a peace officer, as well as a single count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. Defence lawyer Ken Mahoney has argued police used excessive force in trying to arrest Chipman.
RNC officers Const. Jordan McEntegart and Const. Steven Traverse testified Tuesday morning that officers saw Chipman break into a car in MUN’s Field House parking lot. When plainclothes officers stationed around the Field House swooped in to arrest Chipman, trying to block him from leaving the parking lot, he fled in an SUV, after being hit by an unmarked police car and getting stuck in a snowbank.
McEntegart testified he and other officers surrounded Chipman’s stuck SUV and hammered on the windows, identifying themselves as police and yelling for Chipman to get out. Instead, said McEntegart, Chipman’s SUV, which had been rocking back on forth in snow piled on a walkway by the Field House, started to get traction and move forward. That’s when, said the officer, he heard a loud bang that he later learned was a gunshot fired by Const. Dustin Spurrell, and Chipman’s SUV sped away.
Chipman was later arrested in his home, the SUV torched on a nearby street.
Traverse’s version of events was similar. “When the vehicle started to move, that’s when I heard a loud bang,” he said.
But civilian witnesses, called by the defence Tuesday afternoon, said while they heard a lot of yelling during the confrontation, they didn’t hear the police identify themselves.
Michael Fisher, a producer with Rogers Television, was waiting in the parking lot to pick up his wife from her weekly running club, and started taking pictures with his phone when he heard the commotion behind him. He said the bang — which startled him, making him look up from his phone’s screen — happened just before the SUV sped off. “It wasn’t moving then, and then it was moving very quickly,” said Fisher.
Other witnesses who saw the confrontation also said they don’t remember the police identifying themselves as they surrounded the SUV. “At first I thought maybe it was road rage,” testified Rebecca Winsor, who was arriving to work out at the Field House. “I didn’t know if it was police or not, so I backed up because I was scared. … All I really heard was yelling. It wasn’t clear what it was.”
Ed Yaskowiak testified he was leaving the Field House after a workout when he saw people surrounding an SUV in the parking lot. “I thought the person in the vehicle was trying to get away from someone trying to attack them,” he said.
While the civilian witnesses testified they didn’t hear the police identify themselves, they also said they assumed the people around the SUV were police officers. “When I saw the guns, I assumed it was police officers,” said Winsor.
Chipman’s trial is scheduled to return to court Thursday morning.