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Barrie police officers acquitted of assault

Michael Ullman leaves court Wednesday in Barrie after hearing the verdict that three city police officers on trial for beating him were found not guilty. Ullman's lawyer said the case will be taken to case to civil court.
Tracy McLaughlin Photo

Michael Ullman leaves court Wednesday in Barrie after hearing the verdict that three city police officers on trial for beating him were found not guilty. Ullman's lawyer said the case will be taken to case to civil court. Tracy McLaughlin Photo

Three Barrie police officers who were charged with beating up an elderly man in his home were found not guilty by a judge on Wednesday.

Constables Kevin Calleja, Nathan Bowman and Marco Coniglione of the Barrie Police Service have been on trial for the past year, charged with assault causing bodily harm.

The alleged victim, Michael Ullman, a 64-year-old retired engineer, claimed the officers barged into his home without a warrant and kicked, kneed and punched him following a complaint about a skirmish with his sister on July 6, 2009.

During the trial, Crown attorney Robin Flummerflet submitted photos that showed Ullman's body covered in welts and bruises and a broken arm.

No medical expert was called to testify on Ullman's injuries.

The Crown also played a video that showed Ullman being taken into the police station, yelping in pain with his hands cuffed behind his back despite his broken arm that later needed surgery.

The judge ruled the media cannot have access to the video.

Justice Michael Block admitted he was "disturbed" about allegations that Ullman was yanked up by his handcuffs while his hands were behind his back, which would have resulted in the "gratuitous infliction of pain."

But he was not convinced by Ullman or by two eyewitnesses.

In his ruling, the judge said he did not believe Ullman's evidence, finding it was exaggerated and inconsistent, especially concerning the identity of the officers.

"Mr. Ullman's evidence featured almost complete confusion regarding the respective role of Coniglione and Calleja," the judge said. "I am unwilling to accept his evidence."

Indeed, when Ullman pointed out the officers in court he got two of them mixed up.

The judge said he also did not believe Ullman's testimony that while at the the Barrie hospital he heard one officer tell a nurse not to take X-rays of some of his injuries.

Contrarily, the judge said he completely believed the account of a nurse at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, Kimberley Sweeney, the wife of a police officer, who testified she did not hear the request and would not have followed it if she did hear it.

"She was a most impressive witness," said the judge.

Sweeney also testified she did not hear Ullman bluff to an officer that he had video surveillance in his home or a comment by a police officer subsequently telling someone to go back to the residence "and look for an eye."

The Crown had suggested Bowman did sneak back to the house and pointed to photographic evidence showing Ullman's home, in otherwise pristine condition, with a smoke alarm dangling by a wire in the foyer where the scuffle occurred.

But the judge ruled it could have been that way prior to the incident.

The judge admitted he was "suspicious" of some of the evidence from the three officers as to why they entered Ullman's home without a search warrant.

The officers testified they were on alert because they believed someone from the house owned a rifle, but they did not use the police dispatch to determine that it was hunter who lived there eight years prior.

"I cannot conclude that I am comfortable with (the officers') account of the facts," the judge said. "However, I must conclude that I have a reasonable doubt as to whether the defendants used excessive force to arrest Mr. Ullman, and I am required to acquit them."

The judge said it is possible that Ullman was resisting arrest and that the officers were concerned for their safety.

"It will usually be impossible to gauge with nicety the number of blows needed in a given situation," the judge said.

Barrie Police Chief Mark Neelin issued a statement following the acquittal.

"There are certain times that police have to use physical force on another person in order to perform their lawful duties," Neelin said. "However, police can be held criminally responsible for any excess force used."

Outside court, Ullman appeared despondent after hearing the verdict.

"I feel betrayed by the system," he said. "There is no justice. Our police officers are supposed to be the best of the best, but in my opinion, they are not."

Ullman in turn is charged with assault and resisting arrest in the incident. After 17 court appearances, he will be back in court April 30.

In a separate incident, one of the officers, Bowman, is charged with discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act after being accused of allowing a drunken female to play with his loaded gun in exchange for a date.

Bowman was also previously charged with impaired driving, but the case was thrown out because the judge ruled it took too long to get to trial.

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