Judge cites inexperience, lack of supervision for Const. Geoff Mantler’s errors, which culminated in him kicking a brain-injured man
Former police officer Geoff Mantler was handed a suspended sentence and 18 months probation for kicking brain-injured man, Buddy Tavares, in the head in an incident that was caught on video.
“I agree that it is easy to be the Monday morning quarterback and evaluate the situation that occurred on Jan. 7, 2011 in slow motion from the comfort of a judge’s chair,” said Judge Greg Koturbash on Thursday. “There are no sirens blaring in the background. There is no potential of a gun fight, no innocent civilians in harm’s way, and my body is not impaired by the powerful drug called adrenaline.”
“Many who have watched this video will never comprehend how this could occur in a country like Canada; yet others, who are fully informed, will be more sympathetic and have some measure of understanding and compassion for both men involved.”
Koturbash cited a “calamity of errors” in describing the moments leading up to the kick, beginning with the 911 caller not asking what Tavares had been shooting at when someone at the golf club–who didn’t see what happened–called 911 to report the incident.
“Based on the information they were provided from dispatch, the officers responding justifiably believed that the person they were looking for had been engaged in an active shooting of people at the golf course.”
“They were not told that he was shooting geese,” said Koturbash.
Tavares ended up driving past Mantler, “completely oblivious” to the fact police were looking for him, and Mantler’s next move after pulling in behind Tavares “was a critical error in judgement.”
“Regardless of what he believed, [police expert] Sgt. Lane pointed out that Const. Mantler’s thought that he needed to immediately apprehend Mr. Tavares was flawed. Even despite the circumstances he should have followed his Code 5 [high risk vehicle stop] training and he did not. This was not an active shooter situation, instead it had the potential to be one. There is a significant difference,” said Koturbash.
Mantler, the court heard, should have stayed within the safety of his police vehicle, waited for backup to arrive and before slowly directing Tavares out of the vehicle and onto the ground with very concise commands.
Instead he approached the vehicle and ordered Tavares out with “vague” commands. He kicked Tavares when he saw Tavares’ hands move up for a “fraction of a second” as he was getting down on all fours, the court heard.
“One of the reasons for the errors made by Const. Mantler and his skewed perception of the events confronting him was his lack of experience. He was not a seasoned veteran officer who threw all his training to the wind and acted like some out of control cowboy,” said Koturbash. Koturbash also cited a “gross absence of supervision” on this call by more senior members. “Despite being the highest priority call….the most senior officer to respond had less than four years of experience.”
The kick, added Koturbash, was not given out of anger and is a factor in why Mantler does not face jail.
“He misjudged and outrageously miscalculated the need and degree of force necessary to conduct the arrest,” said Koturbash. “He reacted out of panic and a sense of urgency.
“If there had been an indication that the kick was an act of gratuitous violence, or a result of anger, jail would have been the only option,” he said.
Koturbash sided with the Crown’s sentencing submission of a suspended sentence and probation for the 30-year-old, who pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm part-way through a trial in December. He rejected defence’s request for a conditional discharge.
“In my opinion, discharges ought not to be commonly granted where the offence involves an assault of person under the control of a police officer,” said Koturbash. “The public needs to be assured that they can help expect law enforcement to respect the law. A conditional discharge would not help restore the trust that has been breached.”
Conditions of Mantler’s probation include 50 hours of community work service and a victim offender reconciliation with Tavares, should Tavares chose to participate. Tavares, however, says it is “never going to happen.”
“I’m done with all this shit. I’ve spent enough time thinking about it,” he said.
However, he said it was “good” that Mantler did not get a discharge—which would leave him without a conviction on his record after a period of time—and earlier said he hoped the RCMP would use the situation as an opportunity to learn instead of shuffling “it under the carpet.”
Mantler’s lawyer, Neville McDougall, is also waiting for RCMP management to own up for not supervising the inexperienced officers on such a potentially serious call.
“I haven’t seen anything from management where they’ve stepped up and said we’ve erred here,” said McDougall.
Mantler, who has quit the force, was an “excellent officer” and they threw him “under the bus,” he said.
“He’s disenchanted with how he’s been treated here,” said McDougall. “He made one mistake and they completely discarded him.”
Cheryl Wierda, Capital News contributor