Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut September 23, 2016 - 4:00 pm

Citing reasonable doubt, judge acquits Iqaluit artist on assault charges

“I can’t say I believe… or that I disbelieve”

THOMAS ROHNER
A section of a big mural painted on a retaining wall beside the Qikiqtani Regional Hospital, one of many pieces of art that have made Jonathan Cruz well-known across Nunavut and Nunavik. On Sept. 22, a judge found him not guilty on four charges of assault, saying some of the evidence given by him and the complainant was not credible, creating reasonable doubt as to his guilt. (FILE PHOTO)
A section of a big mural painted on a retaining wall beside the Qikiqtani Regional Hospital, one of many pieces of art that have made Jonathan Cruz well-known across Nunavut and Nunavik. On Sept. 22, a judge found him not guilty on four charges of assault, saying some of the evidence given by him and the complainant was not credible, creating reasonable doubt as to his guilt. (FILE PHOTO)

Jonathan Cruz, the well-known Nunavut mural artist and one-time youth advocate, admitted to tearing out his former partner’s hair in the heat of an argument.

He also admitted to lunging at her, putting her in headlocks, giving her a fat lip, inflicting bruises on her arms and chest and leaving marks on her neck during a series of violent arguments between 2013 and 2015.

But Cruz, who testified in his own defence at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit Sept. 22 while staring down the barrel of four assault charges, denied strangling his former partner.

And he denied, during his two-day judge-alone trial, that he was stronger than her.

Instead, Cruz painted a picture of an equally aggressive partner, constantly “picking at me.”

In the end, Justice Vital Ouellette, found Cruz not guilty on all four counts.

“I can’t say I believe… or that I disbelieve” the testimony of either Cruz or the complainant, Ouellette said in his ruling.

Both were non-credible at times, the visiting judge from Alberta said.

The Crown failed to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt: “That burden is quite high. ‘Pretty sure’ is not beyond a reasonable doubt, for example,” Ouellette said.

But Ouellette appeared to believe Cruz more than the complainant: The judge listed parts of the complainant’s testimony he did not believe, while mostly listing parts of Cruz’s testimony he did believe. 

Cruz and his former partner met in August 2012 and started dating shortly thereafter, the court heard during trial.

The four assault charges stem from incidents that Cruz admitted to took place between August 2013 and March 2014.

Each of the four incidents, described by both Cruz and the complainant with most of the same details, show an unhappy couple stuck in a pattern of aggressive and insulting behavior towards each other.

Each incident involves an argument that turned physical after the pair began fighting about something apparently banal.

The first charge arose from an incident on Aug. 20, 2013, when Cruz said he got angry after tripping over an indoor gate.

The second incident occurred on Feb. 26, 2014, in the couple’s bed with their one-month old baby.

Conversation turned into argument, which became violent when Cruz said he wanted to hold his son and his partner wouldn’t let him.

The third incident, on Easter weekend in April 2014, began when Cruz returned to the couple’s home after work, expecting his former partner to cook a festive dinner for friends.

But the complainant testified that she was overwhelmed with caring for their baby and cooking her first turkey, and she told Cruz she couldn’t cook the dinner.

An argument ensued that involved a “tug-of-war” with their infant before turning violent.

The fourth assault charge stems from an incident on March 1, 2015.

Cruz said he returned home from work, found his former partner and her friend in an upstairs bedroom and went back downstairs when he did not want to join their conversation.

Cruz said his partner followed him back downstairs where she began yelling in his face until Cruz punched holes in two doors, smashed a phone and had another physical altercation with his former partner.

Cruz admitted to having anger management problems, for which he has been receiving counseling since the fourth incident.

“I wish all the abuse I’ve given you could be taken back and no words can explain how I feel but let’s just say I’m sorry,” Cruz wrote in an email on the court record to his former partner in February 2014.

But the difference in the testimony of Cruz and the complainant lies in the description of the physical altercations.

Cruz described each altercation as a “scuffling,” “grabbing each other,” and a “mutual fight.”

The complainant described “brutal beatings,” being “strangled,” and fearing for her life.

Cruz said she was impossible, would get in his face and egg him on, and once punched him in the ear perforating his eardrum. 

But Cruz admitted to putting the complainant in a headlock twice and to pulling his partner’s hair once in an effort to pin her to the ground.

“She lost some hair,” but not as much as was entered into evidence, Cruise said.

Cruz stopped short of admitting to strangling the complainant.

“How’d she get those marks on her neck?” Crown prosecutor Benjamin Flight asked Cruz on the stand after showing Cruz photo evidence.

“When we were fighting,” Cruz said.

“So you put your hand on her neck?”

“Yes.”

“Did you squeeze?”

“I don’t agree with that.”

“Could you have left those marks without squeezing?”

“I didn’t squeeze her neck,” Cruz said.

The complainant would bar the door of rooms during arguments and prevent Cruz from leaving, Cruz said.

“So you had no choice but to be violent?” Flight asked.

“To push her away, yes.”

Flight asked if Cruz was stronger than his former partner.

“I’m not stronger than her,” Cruz said after a five-second delay.

But Ouellette said the complainant’s credibility was diminished by denying behavior that was caught in a secret video filmed by Cruz.

Cruz said he shot the video so “people could see the kind of person I’m dealing with.”

The video, shown in court on Sept. 21, features an audio conversation between Cruz and the complainant in June 2014.

The complainant can be heard refusing to let Cruz leave the room, which the complainant denied on the stand.

Ouellette also said the complainant exaggerated her description of the violence and said the photo and physical evidence only shows minor injuries.

Meanwhile, the judge said he couldn’t “disbelieve” that Cruz tried to de-escalate situations by leaving the room.

And Cruz’s perforated eardrum amounted to “significant bodily harm,” Ouellette said.

“I can’t say with any certainty what happened… I don’t know who to believe, and therefore must find Mr. Cruz not guilty.”

“You’re free to go, Mr. Cruz,” Ouellette said.

Cruz stared at the complainant, sitting in the courtroom gallery, as he left the courtroom a free man.

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