A Mountie accused of bullying his tenants was “totally out of line” in approaching them while he was on duty, says a man who worked with him as an auxiliary member of the Innisfail RCMP detachment.
Const. Hoa Dong La, now living in Airdrie, is being tried before Justice David Gates in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench on charges of criminal harassment, extortion and mortgage fraud in relation to five properties in Innisfail, Bowden and the surrounding area.
At the request of his lawyers, La, who is not in custody, has been allowed to sit in the public gallery with his wife during the trial, now entering the second of an anticipated four weeks. An accused person on trial is normally seated in a box off to the side of the room.
On Monday morning, Crown prosecutors brought witness Eric McDermott to the stand. Now living in Montreal, McDermott was manager of the Lafarge Canada cement plant in Innisfail and also volunteered as an auxiliary member of the town’s RCMP when the offences are alleged to have occurred.
Questioned by Crown prosecutor James Pickard, McDermott said about 80 per cent of his time on duty was spent with La, whom he also considered a friend. Most shifts started early in the evening and ran through the night on Fridays and Saturdays.
McDermott testified that, during the course of those shifts, he and La made a number of trips to drive by and look over one of La’s rental properties, located near Bowden Institution.
“It was almost as if it was under surveillance,” said McDermott.
La had a variety of concerns, including late payment of rent, rules not being followed and the tenants smoking and possibly growing marijuana on the property, he said.
La eventually determined that he would need to evict his tenants, said McDermott.
One visit turned into a shouting match when La decided to head to the property immediately after starting an evening shift and serve his tenants with an eviction notice, he said. La pulled his police car into the yard and the two men went to the entry off the kitchen.
A woman answered the door and La entered the kitchen without waiting for her permission and notified her that she and her partner were being evicted. The woman’s male partner emerged from the living room and a shouting match ensued, said McDermott, who testified that he remained at the entry.
McDermott said he was eventually able to convince La to leave the home, but the couple followed them into the yard, where La’s wife had appeared with one of their daughters and was taking video.
McDermott testified that the shouting continued and that La eventually pushed the man, who pushed him back. McDermott said he then grabbed La by his armoured vest and convinced him to get into the police car and drive away.
La continued to yell about the event as they drove off, shouting, “Bull—-, bull—-, bull—-” and that he would find a way to “get them out of there.”
In his testimony and under cross-examination by La’s co-counsel, Ian McKay, McDermott said he could sympathize with the police officer’s concerns about his property, but that La took the wrong approach to resolving issues with his tenants, including his failure to notify them of his intention to come to the house.
“All of these things were done while on duty. That, to me, was unreasonable,” McDermott said under McKay’s cross-examination.
La is on leave with pay. The RCMP have suspended an internal investigation of La’s behaviour pending the outcome of the trial.