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Nevill questioned about list of public complaints

Tracy McLaughlin

By Tracy McLaughlin, Special to Postmedia Network

A Barrie police officer who was caught on video punching and kneeing a man while he was pinned face down on the ground testified he had to use force because he feared for his life, a court heard, Thursday.

“I was afraid for my own personal safety,” Const. Jason Nevill said. “I was fighting for my life.”

The officer, who has been employed with Barrie police for more than 10 years and who has a string of public complaints against him, is now on trial for assault causing bodily harm, fabricating evidence and obstructing justice.

Jason Stern, who was 25 at the time of the incident, testified he had no idea why he was attacked by the officer.

He said security guards at the Bayfield Mall called police because his friend broke a Christmas ornament in the mall hallway on Nov. 20, 2010.

The video, played in court, shows Stern with his girlfriend and another couple walking through the mall when his friend swipes at an ornament hanging from the ceiling. All four leave the mall, but Stern returns because he forgot his wallet.

He is met by two security officers who tell him to remain until police arrive.

“I figured they would make him come back and pay for the ornament,” Stern testified.

The video shows him calmly waiting with the guards until Nevill arrives in his cruiser.

After they talk for 25 seconds, Nevill suddenly attacks Stern, who is then pinned face down on the pavement by the two security officers while Nevill is seen body slamming, punching and kneeing Stern more than a dozen times in the head and neck for several minutes.

Stern is later taken to hospital and ended up with a concussion and stitches and several bruises.

Both Stern and his girlfriend testified they had six Coors Light beers over the course of the evening, starting at their nearby condo and then they walked over to the mall with the other couple to go bowling. They testified that, while they could feel the effect of the alcohol, they were not intoxicated.

But in court on the witness stand, Nevill insisted Stern was drunk and belligerent.

“You did realize that this was over a Christmas ornament?” asked Crown attorney Brenda Cowie.

But the officer said he wanted to arrest him for being drunk in public.

Nevill added he felt threatened by Stern because he had his hands in his pockets.

“The pocket is the unknown,” Nevill said. “There could be a weapon in there.”

But on an average November night, “it’s cold out,” the Crown pointed out.

As Cowie replayed the video, she pointed out how all three men — the two security guards and Stern — were standing around the outside of the mall with their hands in their pockets.

Initially, Stern was charged with assaulting a police officer.

“I was terrified. I’ve never been in trouble before,” he testified.

Faced with a lengthy prison sentence, Stern and his parents hired a lawyer who subpoenaed the mall to get the video, which the Crown never knew existed, court heard.

Once the lawyer brought the video to the Crown, the charges against Stern were dropped.

The officer was then charged with assault causing bodily harm. He was also charged with fabricating his evidence against Stern; his notes state he only hit Stern twice while the video shows over a dozen kicks and punches.

The video can be seen on the Examiner’s website.

Stern testified he was polite with Nevill, but said the officer became upset because he refused to tell the officer the name of his friend who broke the ornament. He said he kept asking for a chance to retrieve his wallet in the mall, but was refused.

The Crown pointed out there is nothing on the video that suggests Stern was belligerent.

“You started this physical confrontation,” said the Crown. “The video shows you struck him while he was face down, even after the cuffs were on.”

“He was spitting at me,” Nevill replied.

“You kneed him in the groin,” said the Crown.

“He was resisting arrest,” said the officer. “I was fighting for my life here, and losing.”

The Crown also pointed out that Nevill — who weighs 230 pounds and lifts weights — is much stronger and more muscular than Stern.

“You look like you work out,” said the Crown.

“I’ve seen the inside of a gym a few times,” Nevill agreed.

“You’re a big UFC fan,” said the Crown.

“I like the UFC, yes,” Nevill replied.

The Crown also questioned Nevill about a lengthy list of public complaints and disciplinary measures against Nevill.

“Everybody does,” he answered.

The trial continues April 5.

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