A Red Deer sheriff used “unjustified” and “excessive” force to remove a deaf and mute man from the Red Deer provincial courthouse, an investigation has concluded.
A recently released report by the Solicitor General Office’s Law Enforcement and Oversight Branch revealed the details of the incident through witnesses, video surveillance and interviews with the sheriffs involved.
On Dec. 9, Bill Berry, a 52-year-old Red Deer man, who breathes through an opening (or stoma) in his neck and has a feeding tube through his nose went to pay a $140 traffic ticket at the courthouse when he entered through the exit door.
A sheriff approached Berry to advise him that he had to re-enter and go through security as is required of all visitors to the courthouse.
Berry had a total laryngectomy where his larynx or voicebox was removed so he gestured to the sheriff that he could not speak and is unable to hear.
The report indicated the sheriff became forceful, put Berry in a bear hug and carried him from the counter area to the closed exit door where Berry collapsed and shortly after went into convulsions.
Four other sheriffs intervened and noticed Berry’s stoma tube became dislodged.
The report concluded the claims of inappropriate use of force by four sheriffs under investigation were unfounded.
According to the report, the sheriff identified as Thomas Bounds, was acting within the law by approaching and advising Berry of his error.
However, Bounds did not give Berry an explanation of his error and a chance to leave the courthouse on his own.
“Sheriff Bounds use and level of force against Mr. Berry was unjustified, excessive, led directly to Mr. Berry’s stoma tube being dislodged, and the resulting serious medical emergency,” the report says.
In an interview included in the report, Bounds said when he asked Berry to re-enter through security Berry responded “non-verbally, by aggressively waving his arms at which time I took control of him.”
Bounds said he believed the combination of actions, including bypassing security, failing to follow verbal direction, and aggressive physical response to an uniformed officer showed an unknown but potentially dangerous risk to the court facility and its occupants.
The report states Berry’s actions on video were “not assaultive or aggressive in nature.”
The report also states Berry was “clearly indicative of an ongoing severe medical condition” and “his appearance is consistent with a person who has endured a serious medical condition.”
Responding through e-mail, Berry said he wants an unedited copy of the courthouse’s video surveillance of the incident. Berry said he will seek legal action against the sheriff.
“I (have) been pretty much bed ridden since (the) assault,” he said. “I just lost all hope in life, not even safe to leave my home.”
Dan Laville, spokesperson for Alberta’s Solicitor General’s Office, said the office takes complaints very seriously but could not comment on the specific incident. He said if there is merit found in a complaints investigation, the findings will be sent to the province’s head sheriff to determine the next step.
“The head sheriff would look at what appropriate action to take,” said Laville. “This action in general could range from leave without pay all the way up to termination.”
Laville did not say whether the sheriff is still working at the courthouse. However, he said, generally a person in question in an investigation can be placed on administrative duty during the investigation.