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Trial begins for man accused of George Street sexual assault

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RNC officer admits problems with investigation

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

As the trial for a 48-year-old man charged with sexually assaulting a woman in a George Street bar got underway Monday, the focus of much of the proceeding was not the crime the man is alleged to have committed, but the way police investigated it.

Prosecutor Jacqueline MacMillan called three witnesses to testify at the man's trial Monday morning, including RNC Const. Jessica Browne, who was the lead investigator in the case.

Browne told the court she was relatively new in the RNC's child abuse and sexual assault unit when she was assigned the case just over a year ago.

The female complainant had attended RNC headquarters in late November 2018 to report a sexual assault a few weeks previously during a live show at the Rockhouse. Browne said she conducted a lengthy recorded interview with the woman a week after the report was made, and reviewed a written statement given to police by the woman's friend, who had been present at the time of the assault.

"Based on evidence gathered during the investigation, I believed a sexual assault did occur and I recommended a charge be laid against (the accused)," Browne told the court.

The officer explained the complainant had posted on social media, hoping to identify the man who had assaulted her. She was subsequently sent a photo of a man at the show taken by a professional photographer, whom she identified as the man responsible. When the woman posted that picture online, she was given the name of the accused by a friend of a friend who refused to speak to police. The woman later discovered other photos of the same man on other social media sites, the court heard, and kept all the pictures on her phone.

Browne said she had sent the photo from the bar to her colleagues, asking if anyone could identify the man, and another officer emailed back to say it looked like a guy she had been in a running club with a number of years ago. The name she provided to Browne matched the name the complainant had been given on social media.

Defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan asked Browne if it was true she had told the complainant the man in the photo had been positively identified. Browne said yes.

"You agree with me that confirming for a person that they were right is incredibly problematic?" Sullivan asked.

"Yes," Browne replied.

"And you did that?"

"I did," the officer replied. "I will say that there are things that could have been done differently."

"I would say that as well, but do you see that particular point as a major problem?" Sullivan asked.

"Yes," said the officer.

Sullivan questioned Browne on why she hadn't spoken to the witness who had provided the hand-written statement, or the photographer or any other people who were named as having been present. Browne said at least two of them had declined to speak with her, and she hadn't contacted the others.

Sullivan pointed out Browne had not contacted the Rockhouse at all, though she was aware the bar has an extensive surveillance system. Sullivan presented to the court a general photo taken from one of the bar's cameras, showing a view of the area in which the sexual assault is alleged to have happened, and suggesting the surveillance footage, if it had been obtained by police, would have included a video of the assault.

The complainant was the last to take the stand Monday. She told the court she had been standing near the stage during the show, taking photos, when a man approached her. He put his arm around her a number of times, she said, and each time she removed it, telling him to stop. 

"One might say the music was too loud, but I'm a very loud person," the woman said. "I know I was heard, I just feel I wasn't respected at that point." 

"I know I was heard, I just feel I wasn't respected at that point." — Complainant

The man moved closer and at one point pressed his genitals against her buttocks, she said, and she told him to get away from her.

"The next thing I knew, I felt a hand. I identify it as a hand because I saw the arm come down, and then the hand went between my legs and grabbed me," the woman told the court. "I know it was the same person because he was the only one near me."

The complainant said her friend then told the man to leave, and he did.

"I felt very violated, and that's my perception of what happened to me," the woman testified, telling the court it had taken her nearly an hour to tell her husband what had happened to her, since she was so upset. 

She broke down in tears, she said, and has been suffering with the emotional aftermath of the assault ever since.

The woman will continue her testimony as the trial continues today.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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