By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – A second effort to prosecute an Edmonton police officer who kicked an Indigenous teenager in the head while the youth was flat on his stomach has been rejected by the Crown on the eve of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The family of Pacey Dumas attempted to launch a private prosecution on Sept. 11 against Edmonton Police Service (EPS) Const. Ben Todd after Crown prosecutors in April rejected the provincial police watchdog’s recommendation of criminal charges against Todd, arguing there wasn’t a reasonable likelihood of conviction.
On Sept. 29, chief prosecutor Sarah Langley sent a letter to the Alberta Court of Justice staying a charge of aggravated assault against Todd launched by Dumas’s lawyer, Heather Steinke-Attia.
The case was scheduled for an Oct. 13 hearing, which has now been cancelled.
Steinke-Attia told the Edmonton Journal that nobody has explained the reasoning behind the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service’s original decision not to press charges.
“It’s one blow after another, to prevent them from getting the justice they deserve,” she told reporter Jonny Wakefield.
“Where’s the respect to at least say, ‘Your life means something, and this is sufficiently concerning that we’re going to put the evidence in a courtroom in front of an impartial judge to make a decision?’ At the very least, that is what is needed in this case.”
Dumas, who is from Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta, was left unconscious and had to have a large piece of his skull removed after Todd kicked him in the head in the early morning of Dec. 9, 2020.
The officer, who carried a carbine rifle, was sent to Dumas’s home after receiving a tip that Dumas was brandishing a knife, according to a report from the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigates allegations of police misconduct. Todd was accompanied by a canine unit and an officer with an ARWEN projectile launcher.
Dumas, who was 18 at the time and weighed about 90 pounds, complied when Todd ordered him to leave the house and crawl towards officers on his belly. Dumas was accompanied by his brother Blair, who died by suicide 15 months later.
Officers said they believed Dumas was reaching for a knife, although an EPS investigation later confirmed he was unarmed.
A neighbour, who was unknown to Dumas and witnessed the incident, said Todd kicked Dumas in the head like a “soccer ball,” which the ASIRT report noted rendered Dumas unconscious.
ASIRT said Todd’s action reflects a “shocking lack of judgment,” adding there are “reasonable grounds” to believe he committed assault.
The only explanation the Crown has provided was to note that prosecutors have a higher standard of evidence than the police watchdog.
Citing “an independent expert on the use of force,” who was never identified, an ACPS spokesperson said Todd’s use of force could be justified under Criminal Code section 25, which permits police use of force if an officer “acted on reasonable and probable grounds and used only as much force as was necessary in the circumstances.”
ACPS spokesperson Michelle Davio told the Journal that the Crown reached its decision not to proceed with the private prosecution after reading an affidavit from Dumas.
She emphasized that the Crown found the incident “disturbing” and that declining to prosecute Todd is “not an endorsement of the officer’s actions or their tragic consequences.”
Steinke-Attia said she’s exploring other possible avenues for pursuing criminal charges. Dumas, additionally, has a $560,000 lawsuit filed against Todd, EPS Chief Dale McFee and six other officers.
“What is it to the Crown to let this matter go to trial?” Steinke-Attia said. “Give the police officers the opportunity to explain what happened. Explain the decision-making. Increase public trust in policing. Actually have a system of accountability and transparency.”
She told CTV News that the Crown’s repeated refusal to proceed with charges is also unfair to the officers involved.
“They should be given an opportunity to address their actions, their training, and justify what they did if they can,” Steinke-Attia said.