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Toronto rapper’s firearms charges dropped after police breached his rights, ‘tailored’ court testimonies: judge

A Toronto rapper’s firearm charges have been dropped after a judge found police breached his Charter rights and gave “tailored” testimonies while on the stand.

In an Ontario Superior Court decision released last month, Justice Sandra Nishikawa handed Omary Bent, 27, a stay of proceedings. He was acquitted of four firearm charges laid on him in the summer of 2021.

The acquittal was granted, in part, after Nishikawa found that the officers used excessive force in dragging Bent out of his Etobicoke condominium by his hair and breached his right to counsel in questioning him without a lawyer present.

In turn, the judge found the court should “distance itself” from the evidence obtained during the raid.

According to court documents, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) began looking into Bent after it was suggested by a confidential source that he’d been dealing drugs and possessed a firearm.

After two days of surveillance, police obtained a warrant to raid Bent’s home.

They did so on July 27, 2021. After the officers rammed their way into the residence, Bent admits he threw a guitar case, which court documents say contained a gun, from his balcony, 37 storeys to the ground.

Within minutes, police deployed a Taser on Bent – but the accounts of what led to that moment differed in court testimony.

According to Bent, he was hit with the energy weapon with his hands in the air. One of the officers involved, however, said the Taser had been deployed as Bent reached for a satchel, later found with a loaded pistol inside. Another officer told the court that the Taser had been deployed as Bent walked towards the police with his hand in his pocket.

After being Tased, Bent was then dragged shirtless from his home by his hair, the judge found. Bent testified that the officer dragging him said, “I should have f*****g killed you,” before leaving him with another officer in the building’s stairwell.

A photograph taken of Bent by his sister, later used as evidence, shows a bald, raw spot where one of his braids had detached from the skin of his scalp.

Bent said police then asked for access to his vehicle, before giving him the chance to speak with a lawyer. While police said the keys were handed them unprompted, Bent testified that one of the officers threatened to break the windows of the Rolls Royce if he did not comply. The Crown later denied this.

Bent told police where they could find the keys, according to his and an officer’s testimony. Nothing was found during a police search of the vehicle.

Police charged Bent with one count each of possession of a loaded prohibited firearm and possession of a non-restricted firearm without a licence, along with two counts of possession of a prohibited device, namely an over-capacity magazine.

‘False and misleading’

In examining the testimonies given by the officers on what led them to Taser Bent, the judge found one of the officer’s accounts “impossible to accept” – his recounting of the events, which included Bent reaching for the satchel, contradicted not only the accounts of other officers present but his own.

In a report made prior to giving his testimony, the officer had stated Bent had dropped his hands and made no mention of a satchel. In that report, the officer had checked ‘yes’ under ‘Subject Confirmed Armed.’ Bent was not found to be armed.

“In this case, checking “yes” […] was false and misleading,” the judge wrote in her decision. “In my view, [the officer] completed the CEW Report in a manner that would avoid questioning of his use of a taser.”

Within their testimonies, three other officers said they did not recall if Bent had been shirtless at the time of the raid or not. The judge found their accounts inaccurate and described them as an effort to suggest Bent may have had a hidden weapon.

“In my view, the officers’ subsequent attempt to justify the use of force by different after-the-fact explanations belies any good faith belief in the necessity of using force at the time,” she wrote.

Ultimately, Nishikawa ruled the deployment of the Taser constituted an excessive use of force and in turn, violated Bent’s Charter rights. The request made by officers for Bent to hand over his keys before speaking to a lawyer was also deemed a breach of rights.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service said that an adverse comment made by a judge cannot be taken as a definitive on the question of that officer’s conduct.

“It is important to understand that negative judicial comments do not necessarily constitute misconduct,” Stephanie Sayer wrote in an email to CTV News Toronto. “When officers are testifying in court, they are not the ones on trial. Like any witness, the officers are not parties to the proceeding – they have no right to representation, no ability to call witnesses or make submissions, no right to make legal arguments, etc. They are there to answer the questions posed to them.”

In this case, Sayer said the Crown had reviewed the officers’ testimony and, in their opinion, it contained no evidence of misconduct. Still, she said the service’s Professional Standards Unit was investigating the allegations.

Strenuous approach to police accountability needed: lawyer

Bent’s lawyers, Hilary Dudding and Maxime Bédard, told CTV News Toronto that the case serves as an important lesson in public trust in policing.

“It’s so important that the public feel confident in the police and feel that the police are going to be enforcing laws fairly and within the boundary of the law themselves,” Dudding said. “Even one case like this does damage to the trust that the community has in the police service.”

“Police are like every other group of people,” she continued. “There’s always going to be frailty there, but looking at a system that takes this more seriously and provides some accountability to the public when this happens is really, really important.”

Dudding added that it shouldn’t be left up to individuals to face off against the authorities in court, and put forth the idea of a public oversight body tasked with reviewing these kinds of claims more strenuously.

“When an internal process takes place, one wonders how many of these complaints are reviewed or how seriously they’re taken, and what the consequences are,” she continued. “We’d all benefit from a more strenuous approach to these things, because we need to focus on the issues that really matter in court, as opposed to trying to figure out what really happened during an engagement with the police.”

In unrelated proceedings, Bent is facing a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the stabbing of 24-year-old Shacquan Harrison. He is scheduled to stand trial in late 2024 or early 2025.

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