B.C. court awards $55,000 to old woman on walker wrestled by police on false suspicion of shoplifting

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      There was no reason for the police to arrest the old, feeble woman, much less take her to the ground.

      Irene Joseph was no thief. She paid for her scarf.

      Moreover, the B.C. woman was 61 when the incident happened in 2014.

      In addition to her advanced age, Joseph is not strong.

      She needs a walker to move around. She has a fused left ankle, and she suffers from a variety of chronic conditions, including pain.

      Joseph sued Darrin Meier, a constable with the RCMP, and the Attorney General of Canada.

      The woman won.

      In her reasons for judgment, Justice Brenda Brown of the B.C. Supreme Court awarded Joseph $50,000 for damages.

      Brown also awarded Joseph $5,000 for Charter damages.

      The incident took place as Joseph went shopping at a Mark’s Work Wearhouse in Smithers.

      Joseph was injured when Constable Meier wrestled her to the ground and handcuffed her.

      According to the defendants, Justice Brown related in her reasons posted online Monday (May 25), the police officer had “reasonable grounds to believe that the plaintiff had shoplifted and he was justified in arresting the plaintiff for theft”.

      “He was authorized to arrest and detain the plaintiff without warrant and to use as much force as necessary for that purpose,” Brown said about the defendants’ position.

      Moreover, the defendants “say that any injury suffered by her could have been avoided had she not been negligent with respect to her own actions and safety”.

      Brown was not impressed.

      “I am satisfied that Cst. Meier’s primary goal was to search Ms. Joseph’s bag for stolen property,” according to Brown. “Only once that was done would he be satisfied that she hadn’t taken anything.”

      Brown wrote that Meir “anticipated that she would be compliant”.

      “Things escalated very quickly when she was not,” Brown wrote. “In these circumstances, a quickly escalating confrontation which surprised him, he did not turn his mind to whether there were reasonable grounds for arrest.”

      The store called for the police when another person ran out when confronted by Mark’s Work Wearhouse manager Tara Laughlin about a scarf.

      Joseph was shopping in the same area of the store for a scarf. She recognized the person, a younger woman, and was to talking to her.

      Laughlin testified in court that that she "did not believe that Ms. Joseph had taken anything and did not suggest to Cst. Meier that she had done so".

      According to Justice Brown, the defendants also did not persuade her that appropriate force was used.

      “A younger, fit person may need to be taken to the ground and have cuffs applied, particularly where backup is not immediately available,” Brown wrote.

      Joseph walked with walker, and it would have been “obvious to all that she had limited mobility”.

      “Things rapidly escalated when Cst. Meier decided to handcuff her,” Brown noted. “It is at that point that he decided to take Ms. Joseph to the ground, resulting in her injuries.”

      Brown also ruled that Joseph’s Charter rights against unreasonable searches and arbitrary detention were violated.