Off-duty Barrie officer was defending herself in bar fight, lawyer tells tribunal

Off-duty Barrie officer was defending herself in bar fight, lawyer tells tribunal

Const. Lesley Johnston was involved in a “drunken bar fight” in Midland in which the other woman was giving bear spray

A Barrie policewoman pleaded guilty of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act and not guilty of a second charge is fighting to keep her job.

Const. Lesley Johnston pleaded guilty two years ago to cheating under $ 5,000 for working part-time for $ 15 an hour while on vacation from the Barrie Police Service in 2016 for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder the WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board).

A disciplinary hearing revealed that she earned a total of $ 6,915.54 that was not taxed and that she did not file a claim during the part-time job that she later repaid. Johnston was given parole and 12 months probation in a criminal court.

Her most recent admission of guilt for discreditable behavior is related to the conviction for fraud.

The second allegation arose from what prosecutors called a “drunken bar fight” that Johnston was involved in two days after the court appeared for fraud in 2019. With this charge of discreditable conduct, Johnston is charged with acting in a disorderly manner that is likely to discredit the reputation of the Barrie Police Service.

“Instead of going away … Const. Johnston decides that the best thing to do is to throw the blow and we know predictably what will happen afterwards, ”prosecutor David Migicovsky told the hearing on Tuesday.

Johnston alleges at the trial that although she threw the first blow during the off duty encounter, she defended herself and was not guilty of indictment of discreditable conduct. She was not criminally charged in the fight.

The tribunal heard that Johnston and her then-partner had gone to a Midland restaurant where they had dinner, drank and watched a hockey game. They then went to another restaurant for a drink.

When Johnston was leaving the second restaurant, he got into a verbal argument with another woman who worsened in a physical battle, the tribunal heard. The other woman was subsequently charged after spraying bear spray on Johnston and others.

The tribunal relied on agreed facts about the basic events of the evening and played audio recordings of three interviews that were conducted with Johnston about the fight during the two-day hearing that began last week.

Migicovsky said Johnston escalated the verbal altercation into a physical altercation just two days after promising to keep the peace after the criminal conviction. Instead of walking away, he added, she stopped and slapped the other woman in the face.

The test of discreditable behavior is whether a reasonable person determines that the officer’s behavior discredits the police service’s reputation.

As pillars of the community that have powers that other people don’t, police officers have a responsibility to display certain community behavior both on and off duty, Migicovsky said. And participation in bar fights is not acceptable.

“Const. Johnston had a choice. … It would be unreasonable, let’s say in the extreme, to find that the only option she had was to strike first, ”he said. “By any definition, this is not self-defense and that is not what the public expects from police officers.”

But defense attorney Kate Robertson said Johnston had the right to defend himself.

“Accepting the prosecution’s interpretation … would subject officers to a new, overly broad standard of liability,” she said. “When faced with rapidly evolving situations, each of us is entitled to leeway … when the need for self-defense arises.

“This concept of leeway is at the heart of the self-defense law,” added Robertson.

Robertson said Johnston was confronted with a woman who used her body to push her 10 to 20 feet from the exit while the woman spat out spit while yelling at her and eventually used bear spray. Johnston had bruises on his face and scratches on his chest.

The body block and spitting while screaming, Robertson added, constitute an attack, although the woman was only accused of using bear spray. This threatening behavior, she added, created a threat that enabled Johnston to defend himself.

“It is not discreditable to defend yourself,” she said.

The next hearing for the tribunal is scheduled for May 13th, when Hearing Officer Terence Kelly, retired deputy chief of York Regional Police, is expected to announce when he will make his decision.