Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit May 13, 2010 - 4:19 pm

Nunavut RCMP member pleads guilty to assaulting prisoners

Lawyer, wife, criticize RCMP for posting man to hometown

GABRIEL ZARATE

Updated May 14, 4:55 p.m.

A Nunavut RCMP member, Const. Kipanek Eegeesiak, pleaded guilty this week to assaulting two prisoners who were held in police custody.

According to a statement of facts read in court, after midnight on May 16, 2009, Eegeesiak, then 26, attacked an intoxicated prisoner, Meelia Braun, throwing him against the wall and putting his arm across Braun’s throat to cut off his airflow.

Braun, 34 at the time, is a repeat sex offender who has broken into the home of Eegeesiak’s grandmother on more than one occasion.

Eegeesiak had heard Braun was in custody, fetched the key to his cell and paid him a visit.

Another RCMP member twice told Eegeesiak to stop choking Braun before Eegeesiak backed off. Two other constables were also there.

Braun suffered no visible injuries and police released him the next day.

Only hours after attacking Braun, Eegeesiak assaulted another drunken prisoner Andrew Evic, throwing him around and standing on his back to hold him to the floor.

Twenty-three-year-old Evic is the common-law spouse of Eegeesiak’s cousin and has been violent with her in the past.

Two constables arrested Evic for being drunk in a public place – the Legion – then turned him over to the custody of Eegeesiak and another constable while they continued rounding up drunks.

Evic was drunk, but cooperative and not aggressive. But he repeatedly questioned why he had been arrested when there were many people at the Legion more intoxicated than he.

Eegeesiak told the court had warned Evic in Inuktitut to stop hurting Eegeesiak’s cousin, and Evic responded with personal insults toward Eegeesiak and his family.

Eegeesiak then slammed Evic’s head against a counter and held him down.

Evic attempted to straighten up and Eegeesiak slammed him down again, shouting in English, “Never bug my cousin again or I will knock you out.”

After Eegeesiak let him stand up, Evic threatened to tell a relative of his who holds political office about Eegeesiak’s attack and have him suspended.

Eegeesiak said he didn’t care because he was related to the same person.

Eegeesiak then threw Evic into a steel door and pinned him there with Evic’s face pressed against it.

Then he threw Evic across the floor, got on top of him, kneed and punched him several times. Evic did not fight back.

All the while, Evic kept asking what he had done wrong and Eegeesiak dared him to repeat his comments.

Eegeesiak’s lawyer told the court it was the personal insults — not the political threat — that had upset Eegeesiak. The conversation was in mixture of Inuktitut and English, and the other RCMP member present only understood part of it.

The other constable told Eegeesiak he had done enough, and Eegeesiak backed off. But when Evic tried to get up Eegeesiak got on his back and held him as he pinned Evic’s hands.

The other constable told Eegeesiak “he was done,” and Eegeesiak again backed off.

But when Evic tried to get up again, Eegeesiak yelled at him to stay down, then stood on Evic’s with his RCMP boots against Evic’s upper back and neck.

Eegeesiak weighs about 260 pounds . His defence lawyer said if Eeseesiak had wanted to hurt Evic badly, he could have easily done so.

The other constable pushed Eegeesiak off Evic and told him to leave. Eegeesiak did.

Soon after, Eegeesiak apologized to the other constable and said that “he just lost it.”

He told his corporal there would probably be a complaint against him for using force on a subject in cells. The corporal inspected Evic and found swelling and bruising on his head and face.

Police released Evic that morning and drove him to his girlfriend’s house.

Crown prosecutor Larry Stein said Eegeesiak had abused his position of trust as a police officer and the court needed to strongly denounce his crime with a suspended sentence combined with probation and counselling.

Stein said Eegeesiak’s crime damaged the public’s confidence in the RCMP, and reminded the court that Eegeesiak had sworn to uphold the law and protect people in his custody.

“In that regard, he failed miserably,” he said.

Via teleconference from Edmonton, Justice Ronald Veale asked how a suspended sentence was public enough, since the public often focuses on the avoidance of jail time.

Stein replied that Eegeesiak had indicated he would plead guilty very early in his legal proceedings and had shown real remorse, and that unlike in incidents of police brutality elsewhere in the country, Eegeesiak made no attempt to cover it up.

Eegeesiak’s lawyer, Andrew Mahar, said his client should never have been assigned to be a police officer in his home community.

Mahar said Eegeesiak grew up in Iqaluit and his connections to many people in the community make it difficult for him to work as a police officer.

“He would always be Kip first and a police officer second,” Mahar said.

“Police officer should never be asked to deal with people they know personally,” Mahar said.

After two-year tours in Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet, Eegeesiak accepted a posting to Iqaluit, in 2007, a decision he has since regretted.

Eegeesiak’s wife Qajaq Robinson spoke on his behalf. She struggled to maitain her composure as she talked about how ashamed Eegeesiak was of his actions.

Eegeesiak was a youth role model for the National Aboriginal Health Organization in 2004 and his face is on posters in schools in aboriginal communities all over the country.

“He has not been able to look at those posters,” she said.

Robinson criticized the RCMP for stationing Eegeesiak in Iqaluit. She said the RCMP knows it needs Inuit police officers, but doesn’t consider what Inuit police officers need.

“I truly believe the RCMP has been clumsy and shortsighted with Inuit officers,” she said.

He took the Iqaluit posting to be near his extended family, since he had been away from home since he started RCMP training at age 19 and was tired of frequent travel.

He also wanted to be in Iqaluit so his wife could pursue her career there.

Before this incident Eegeesiak, now 27, had been requesting a transfer to Whitehorse, where he would be regarded as just another cop.

“Outside of Nunavut he can be just another officer. He can just do his job,” Mahar said.

Justice Veale said he would issue his sentencing judgment June 24.

At a press conference on May 14, Chief Superintendent Steve McVarnock said the RCMP has completed its internal investigation into Eegeesiak’s actions.

Eegeesiak has been charged under the RCMP policing act with neglect of duty and disgraceful conduct.

However, the outcome of the investigation is on hold until Veale hands down Eegeesiak’s sentence.

Until then, there’s no word on whether Eegeesiak will keep his job or whether he’ll get the transfer to Whitehorse he wants.

McVarnock said the incident was “a rare occurrence” among the RCMP, “an anomaly,” and said he was disappointed it happened.

RCMP members often have to deal with prisoners who are intoxicated and dangerous.

“We do take the care and handling of prisoners very seriously,” he said.

McVarnock said the RCMP doesn’t have any “hard and fast rules” regarding members in the North who are posted to their home communities.

Iqaluit is a desirable post for members in Nunavut because it means they aren’t on-call 24 hours a day – which is the case in the smaller detachments.

It also means more employment opportunities for the member’s spouse and more educational opportunities for children.

In a Nunatsiaq News interview, Sgt. Jimmy Akavak described some of the unique stresses in being an Inuk member of the RCMP.

“Policing in the North as an Inuk member, you can be quite close,” he said. “You exist in two worlds.”

Born in Kimmirut with family throughout the South Baffin, Akavak has had to deal with family and friends while in uniform.

“You have to try and stop your feelings and emotions when you deal with people you know,” he said.

He admitted he has occasionally received threats against himself and his family, but almost always while dealing with someone who is intoxicated.

When they sober up they usually apologize.

Akavak said Inuit members suffer additional stress on the job, because they must constantly be the “go-to guy” for other members who need an Inuktitut interpreter or help with other cultural matters.

McVarnock said the RCMP has a committee of Inuit RCMP employees – stationed in Nunavut and elsewhere – that is looking for options to better redistribute the workload of Inuit members.

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