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'I thought it was safer to go with a police officer,' woman testifies at trial
It was a night in January 2015 while on patrol in St. John’s that RNC Const. Kelsey Muise was told that one of her colleagues had sexually assaulted a woman while on duty.
Muise had responded to a report of unknown trouble in the east end of the city and arrived at the reported location to find a 21-year-old woman, alone, intoxicated and visibly upset. The woman sat in Muise’s police vehicle and the constable began to drive her home; on the way, the woman, crying, told her she had been offered a ride home by another RNC officer after a night out with friends a month earlier and he had sexually assaulted her.
“My immediate response was to find a location to pull over and speak to this individual,” Muise told the court Thursday. “I remember parking the police car in a Needs parking lot, turning the dome light on and turning so I could see her.”
Immediately after speaking to the woman and dropping her home, Muise called her supervisor. Instead of generating a police file as usual, they decided to bring the matter directly to the attention of those higher up in RNC rank the next morning.
After an investigation — which included the involvement of the Ontario Provincial Police, interviews with the woman and her friends, a review of RNC patrol car GPS systems on the night in question, forensic testing of the woman’s couch cushion and officers conducting surveillance on their colleague, snagging a DNA sample from his coffee cup — Const. Doug Snelgrove was charged with sexual assault.
On Thursday, close to six years later, the complainant was stoic as she took the witness stand and gave her account of the night Snelgrove allegedly sexually assaulted her. It was her second time giving her evidence: Snelgrove went to trial in 2017 and was acquitted before a new trial was ordered.
The woman told the court a friend had invited her over for a small get-together with drinks the night of Dec. 20, 2014 and had picked her up from her apartment, stopping at the Liquor Store along the way. She bought eight coolers, she said, realizing later they weren’t the regular five per cent alcohol kind, but seven per cent Black Fly coolers. She drank five of them over the next five hours or so, she testified, before heading to a nightclub downtown with her friends.
After dancing with her friends for a while, the woman said she realized she was too drunk to be out and needed to go home to bed. She left the bar and walked down the steps of McMurdo’s Lane towards Water Street, hoping to hail a taxi. There was an RNC vehicle parked there and when she got to the bottom of the steps, the officer inside the car put down the front passenger window and asked her if she was ok and if she needed a ride home.
“Why did you feel you could accept the invitation?,” prosecutor Lloyd Strickland asked her.
“Because I was highly intoxicated and not really sure what I was doing at that moment. I thought it was safer to go with a police officer if he was offering me a ride.”
Outside her basement apartment, the woman said she couldn’t find her keys to get in. The officer asked her if there was somewhere else she could go, she said, and she called a work colleague, though she’s not sure why, since they weren’t close friends. He told her she could stay at his place and the officer was prepared to drive her there, she testified, but she insisted on staying in her own apartment instead.
The RNC officer managed to open the kitchen window and the woman told the court she must have climbed in, since she noticed her footprints on the counter the next morning. She said she remembered letting the constable in the front door.
“When he came in I remember standing up. I remember talking,” the woman said, her voice wavering for the first time in her testimony. “I remember that we kissed. I remember sitting on the couch because I was too drunk to stand up. The next thing I remember, I came to and he was having anal sex with me.”
“Do you recall ever consenting?,” Strickland asked.
“I don’t recall,” the woman explained. “In the drunken state I was, I don’t know if I gave consent or not.”
As Strickland had explained to the jury in his opening remarks, if a person is severely intoxicated, they cannot legally give consent. A person can’t consent to sexual activity if they are unconscious and they can’t give consent to someone in a position of authority or trust who abuses that position to induce the consent to sex. All sexual activity without consent is a crime.
“Our argument is that there was no factual or legal consent,” Strickland told the jurors. “Our position is that Const. Snelgrove saw a young woman coming from a bar who was intoxicated and he took advantage of it.”
The woman testified remembering the RNC officer cleaning himself up in the bathroom before telling her he had missed two calls and had to leave. That’s all she can recall until the next morning, when she woke up sore and with friction burns on the inside of her thighs from what she suspects was the officer’s uniform, she told the court.
Forensic testing would later reveal Snelgrove’s DNA in an organic substance on her couch cushion, while the GPS in his vehicle placed him at the woman’s residence between 3:15 a.m. and 3:37 a.m.
The woman said she had thought about going to the police the next day, but decided against it.
“No one would believe me because I was a drunk girl with a police officer and I would have to go (report it) to the same police,” she said.
Questions from defence
Defence lawyer Randy Piercey began his cross-examination of the woman by asking about her level of functioning the night in question.
“Some people can get really, really drunk and appear to be acting normal. Has that ever happened to you?” he asked.
The woman said no.
Piercey pointed out the woman had not been so drunk she was unable to decide she should go home or to give the police officer directions to her apartment, and noted it was the police officer’s idea to drive her to her friend's house when she couldn’t find her keys. He told her Snelgrove’s GPS put his vehicle in the parking lot of the city lockup and not parked near the nightclub around the time she met him.
“That’s not part of my recollection,” the woman replied.
Others to take the witness stand Thursday included the friend the woman had called when she couldn’t get into her apartment. He told the court she had called him twice — once from a Tim Hortons and the call was disconnected, and again minutes later when she asked for a place to stay because she was locked out. She sounded clearly drunk and was slurring, the man said, and he hadn’t felt comfortable letting her stay at his place, so he suggested she call her landlord or her ex-roommate for a key instead.
Another man, one of the friends who was with the woman that night, also testified, telling the court he had seen her drink five coolers at his place and a potent shot at the bar. She also tripped and fell at one point, he said.
The man testified he hadn’t told those two facts to police because he hadn’t known why he was being questioned and wanted to protect his friend. He acknowledged not having mentioned the details during the last trial, either.
On cross-examination, defence lawyer Jon Noonan presented the man with a screenshot of a text message he had sent to the complainant after Snelgrove’s acquittal.
“You need to appeal. They need to know I downplayed this because I was protecting you,” the text read. “I feel I could make a difference.”
“Did you mean make a difference in getting him found guilty?” Noonan asked.
“Yes,” the man replied.
Snelgrove’s trial has adjourned until Monday, when the Crown is expected to call its last two witnesses. Snelgrove is expected to take the stand later in the week.