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Snelgrove jury set to begin verdict deliberations in St. John's today

RNC Const. Doug Snelgrove at the start of his trial in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's last week. Snelgrove, 43, is charged with sexually assaulting a woman while he was on duty in St. John's in 2014. TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO
RNC Const. Doug Snelgrove at the start of his trial in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's last week. Snelgrove, 43, is charged with sexually assaulting a woman while he was on duty in St. John's in 2014. — TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO

Toxicologist testifies as the final witness in the trial of RNC officer charged with sexual assault

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Testimony in the sexual assault trial of Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Doug Snelgrove concluded Wednesday afternoon with the brief and fairly vague testimony of a Nova Scotia doctor specializing in the effect of alcohol on the body.

Dr. Peter Mullen was called by Snelgrove’s lawyers as their final witness, and he testified in the St. John’s courtroom via video from his home province.

Defence lawyers Randy Piercey and Jon Noonan presented to the jury an opinion report Mullen had written for them in December 2016, after having reviewed video of interviews police had conducted with the complainant, transcripts from Snelgrove’s preliminary inquiry and an affidavit from Snelgrove.


Defence lawyer Randy Piercey
Defence lawyer Randy Piercey

In the report, Mullen said it was his belief the woman Snelgrove is accused of sexually assaulting might have experienced an alcohol-induced blackout on the night in question but could have appeared sober.

The woman, who was 21 at the time of the alleged assault in December 2014, testified she had been on a night out with friends downtown when she felt she had become too drunk and needed to go home and sleep. She had walked toward Water Street to hail a cab and came across an RNC vehicle, she said. As she approached, the officer rolled down his passenger window and asked if she was OK or needed a ride home. She said she accepted the offer, feeling it was her safest option.

The woman told the court she has a patchy recollection of the night because of her level of intoxication, and she believes she had passed out. She remembered misplacing her keys and the officer opening her kitchen window for her to climb in. She remembered opening her apartment door for him, kissing him and sitting down on the loveseat because she was too drunk to stand.

“The next thing I remember, I came to and he was having anal sex with me,” she said. “In the drunken state I was, I don’t know if I gave consent or not.”

A person cannot legally give consent if they are severely intoxicated or unconscious, and they can’t legally consent to sexual activity with someone in a position of authority or trust who abuses that position to induce the consent. All sexual activity without consent is a crime.


Defence lawyer Jon Noonan
Defence lawyer Jon Noonan

Snelgrove, now 43, told the court he had been in uniform and on duty, writing up a police report in his vehicle parked on an incline outside the city lockup when the woman approached and asked him for a ride home. He initially refused, he said, but relented “because she wouldn’t leave.” Snelgrove described the woman as having a faint smell of alcohol but showing no signs of impairment.

The constable told the court he wasn’t sure why he entered the woman’s apartment when she invited him in, and had intended to leave until she blocked his way to the door and kissed him while taking off her clothes. She led him to the loveseat, where he asked her if she would have anal intercourse and she agreed, he told the court.

“She was fully engaged. She was fully aware of what was happening,” Snelgrove told prosecutor Lloyd Strickland.

Mullen explained “passing out” is not the same as “blacking out” when it comes to alcohol. If a person is passed out they are incapable of responding, he said. With an alcohol-induced blackout, a person may have partial or fragmented memory loss, but could appear fine to those around them. He didn’t give any indication of a typical blood-alcohol level involved in a blackout.

“To an observer, they’d seem perfectly normal, appearing to be cognitively normal and physically normal,” Mullen said.

Noonan asked Mullen if he could offer any insight into why the accused’s and the complainant’s versions of events were so different.

“I don’t know if I can offer a substantial opinion on why it differs,” he said.

“Is it possible the complainant could have been experiencing an alcohol-induced blackout?” Noonan asked.

“It’s possible, yes,” Mullen responded.


Prosecutor Lloyd Strickland
Prosecutor Lloyd Strickland

On cross-examination, Strickland asked the toxicologist if a person experiencing an alcohol-induced blackout could appear obviously impaired to people around them. He said yes. Strickland pointed to an academic paper Mullen had cited in his report, in which the authors said large survey studies of college-age subjects had suggested more than 80 per cent had experienced what they described as a blackout. The episodes are usually associated with signs of impairment, the authors wrote.

Strickland and Justice Garrett Handrigan, who is presiding over the trial, both asked Mullen if he accepted or disputed the scholars’ conclusion; he said he accepted it, but stressed the level of impairment displayed could vary.

“What about the judgment of that person, can you speak to whether he or she could exercise judgment as to their welfare or things that have to do with their safety and what have you?”

“It’s an interesting question,” Mullen said. Later, he added, “I think it’s possible, but I don’t know of any particular studies where it’s been determined.”

The jury has heard testimony from eight Crown witnesses — the complainant, a number of her friends, a police officer and a retired police officer — and two witnesses for the defence — Snelgrove and Mullen — over the past week. The lawyers will deliver their closing remarks this morning before Handrigan gives the jurors his final instructions on how the law is to be applied in the context of the case. After that, he will sequester them to begin their discussions on a verdict.

This is Snelgrove’s second time going to trial for the sexual assault charge. He was acquitted by a jury in 2017, but a new trial was later ordered.

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