‘We’re treating your body as a crime scene’ — Laporte trial notebook 2

(Winnipeg Law Courts/Winnipeg Sun File)

Editor’s note: This post contains foul language. 

“We’re treating your body as a crime scene.”

That’s what Peter Laporte was told while cuffed and being held at bay by three police officers in a third-floor interview room at the city’s Public Safety Building early on Nov. 24, 2008.

The comment was made by now-Det. Sgt. Mark Philippot of the Winnipeg Police Service, called to testify this week in Laporte’s ongoing sexual assault trial in Winnipeg.

Laporte has pleaded not guilty and is presumed innocent of all charges he currently faces.

Currently, the Crown and Laporte are locked in a high-stakes Charter rights-related battle over the admissibility of evidence gathered from penile swabs taken about five hours after his arrest at a Cumberland Avenue apartment block.

Laporte is arguing police stomped on his fundamental rights in how the swabs (a non-invasive procedure where cops use a wet and dry cotton swab to mop a suspect’s penis to gather evidence) were collected.

Philippot testified that after almost immediately after receiving information from child abuse investigators that a boy had disclosed been anally raped, it was his right to go in and get the swab samples.

“There’s no warrant required here,” Philippot said, explaining that in his experience, there’s no need for cops to get a warrant to take the samples, even if Laporte was unwilling to offer them as it’s considered incident to arrest.

One of the major issues Queen’s Bench Justice Perry Schulman will have to wrestle with is this: Laporte repeatedly requested (I’m being generous here, see below) to speak with a lawyer prior to the samples being taken, but cops didn’t comply.

Why is that? Don’t they have to? (Question is silently mine, sitting watching the proceedings)

According to Philippot, then a sex-crimes unit investigator (now homicide detective), the denial of Laporte’s “phone call” (to be cliche about it) had a lot to do with his demeanour and attitude.

A video of Laporte’s interactions with Philippot was played in court, starting from the time general patrol officers brought him into the interview room and put him on continuous video.

The video starts with a short haired, moustachioed Laporte, wearing a black T-shirt and shorts, being escorted into the room. “Do not kick,” he’s warned.

Earlier this week, we covered how cops viewed Laporte as combative and violent with them.

22:28 Nov 23, 2008: Philippot, not necessarily an imposing physical presence, enters the room.

“I’ve done nothing,” Laporte tells him.

“What’s your first name?” asks Philippot, trying to fill out a required prisoner’s log sheet that asks a number of questions of a suspect (it’s a matter of routine).

“I want to talk to my lawyer,” he’s told. Laporte moves to cradle his arms on the small table in front of him.

Philippot gets up and leaves for about an hour. The video is skipped ahead by Crown John Field.

 23:36: Laporte is seen lying on the floor of the interview room. Oddly, the sounds of Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’ can be heard in the hallway outside the door. (cops play music so suspects can’t hear anything that’s going on in the office).

 ‘For a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself,’ wails Thom Yorke.

The music ends.

In the process, Laporte gets up, gets back in the chair as Philippot re-enters the room, again, ostensibly to try and get the log sheet filled out. Laporte again requests to speak with a lawyer.

Philippot asks him the standard question: Are you part of a gang?

“Go fuck yourself,” says Laporte.

Philippot repeats the question, prompting anger to literally erupt out of Laporte.

“Look at me, take a good look at me you fucking piece of shit,” he barks. “Go fuck yourself.”

Philippot doesn’t waver.

“I’ll put you as uncooperative right now for your behaviour,” he says in a measured tone, apparently unmoved or riled by Laporte’s ire. He verbally notes and jots down a few minor scrapes and cuts he has on him.

The “interview” progresses to the point that Philippot tells him he’s being arrested for sexual assault “or some similar offence” times three, and offers Laporte notice of his rights to counsel.

“Beat it you fucking clown, you fucking monkey,” Laporte spits.

His rant continues, rising and ducking in force.

“Go fuck yourself you fucking goof… you fucking piece of shit,” he exclaims.

He’s asked again if he wants to call a lawyer.

“Beat it — take your suit and shove it up your ass,” Laporte spits.

“Beat it clown. Beat it. Beat it.”

Philippot exits, and reemerges a few minutes later.

 12:12 (Nov. 24, 2008) Laporte says he wants to call lawyer Ian Garber. He’s asked if he has his number. The angry tirade renews.

“I’m being reasonable with you,” says Philippot. Do you want a lawyer?

“Poop your fucking head,” Laporte says.

“Poop my head, is that what you’re saying?,” Philippot asks, and again leaves.

Laporte lays his head on the table.

The tone changes roughly six minutes later.

 00:19 Philippot re-enters, this time with latex gloves on and patrol cops in tow. He tells Laporte officers are seizing his clothing as part of their investigation.

“No, you don’t get my clothes,” he says.

Laporte is told cops are going to take penile swabs from him.

“I think not,” he says. “You guys remember the last time you took one. We’ll do this on (inaudible) way. Call my lawyer and fuck off,” he says, moments later adding if cops want his clothes, they going to have to “tear ’em off me.”

So, essentially, they do. Not tear, anyways, but remove by the application of force.

Laporte is pushed up against a wall out of camera sight and cuffed.

“Stop resisting,” he’s told. “Keep that foot down.”

Then, dear reader, the screaming begins. It’s hard to hear.

Laporte howls and cries and then howls some more in what sounds like — sounds like — sheer, utter agony.

His clothes are removed and bagged, piece by piece.

They move to take his shorts. More howls.

“I’m not doing anything to you. That’s just you screaming,” one of the four cops says.

When they move for the white socks Laporte’s wearing, the screams take on a tone of unadulterated rage.

He’s told he’s just fine. “Fuck you,” he responds. “Get the fucking handcuffs off me,” he shouts.

“Because you’re being aggressive with us this is what we’re forced to do here,” a cop says.

 At this point, the tape is stopped. Philippot is still on the witness stand.

“You’ve heard screaming several times. What’s that?” asked Field.

“I can only give you my opinion,” said Philippot, explaining the cuffs were placed on Laporte for officer safety.

“No one was applying any pressure to him,” he says. He’d just scream,” later testifying: “I don’t know why he’s screaming.”

The video is started again. Now, cops are obtaining the contentious penile swabs.

“We’re treating your body as a crime scene,” Philippot tells Laporte.

The process is explained again.

“I’m HIV positive,” Laporte says.

“Thanks for sharing it with us,” says Philippot.

More yowls of rage.

“Just relax now,” Laporte is told.

“Fuck you,” he says.

 The tape again is stopped. “What’s he screaming about?,” Field asks.

Philippot explains that the process is non-invasive. Basically, one of two swabs obtained is soaked with distilled water and then rubbed on the shaft and tip of the penis. The other is bone dry.

 The video resumes.

Prior to the first swab being taken, Laporte cries: “Why are you doing this to me?” and then asks to use the washroom. “Okay, enough,” he exclaims.

“I gave you the opportunity to do this yourself,” says Philippot.

“It hurts!,” cries Laporte. “My fucking wrists!” He comments that his wrists were bleeding.

 The video is again halted. Philippot says there’s no indication Laporte’s wrists were bleeding, cops in fact, by this point, had loosened his cuffs somewhat.

Field: We’ve just heard copious amounts of screaming,” he says.

“I don’t know why he was screaming,” says Philippot.

 The video resumes, largely more of the same.

“Fuck you, Not fair, not fucking fair,” Laporte is heard saying.

“What’s not fair?,” he’s asked.

He doesn’t reply.

Oddly, Philippot asks the court to stop the video so he can comment. As you can see, he tells Schulman, we loosened his cuffs.

“I don’t see why the screaming was happening,” he says.

 Tape resumes: Laporte is escorted to the washroom, and then given some water and left alone in the room again by 00:37.

Video ends. 

Field: A decision was made to take the swabs. How did that come to pass?

Philippot: It’s part of the sex crimes investigative process. In Laporte’s case, he testified, his “hostile and volatile” demeanour kind of predicated how it would go down, that the decision to take the swabs was made after a boy disclosed being anally raped, and  cops wanted to preserve evidence. The boy’s disclosure was “grounds enough” to get the swabs.

Philippot says it was the first time in his career he’s ever had to use force to get the swabs, that usually the suspect is allowed to gather them under their own power. “Normally,” he said, “They do it themselves.”

Interestingly, Philippot remarked that studies have shown how 75 per cent of penile swabs net DNA evidence, compared with 25 per cent of vaginal swabs.

The key is gathering the sample in time, he said. “The longer you wait … the more opportunity you have to lose it,” he says.

But why do it with four cops and handcuffs?

Philippot: considering Laporte’s “hostile and volatile” demeanour, it was necessary. “I just felt as best practice for officer safety” — and Laporte’s own safety.

“In this case, for safety reasons, because of his attitude, we decided to go that way.” “It took four officers just to get has arms behind him,” said Philippot.

As for giving Laporte a phonebook to look up a lawyer’s number, his demeanour precluded that from happening, the cop said.

 The cross-examination: 

Philippot is asked how many people could have walked by and seen what was happening in the interview room (privacy rights breach?).

Philippot says setting aside the four in the room itself, there were about 18 other cops that could have walked past.

What about Laporte’s repeated demands to speak to a lawyer when the interview first began?

Well, Philippot said, there was the matter of getting that preliminary, but mandatory, prisoner log sheet taken care of first.

He said as the interviewer, he was required to feel comfortable to know that Laporte was, in fact, Laporte.

“I want to know who I’m dealing with. Get a bit of a background here,” he said.

What about when he specifically mentions wanting to speak with Ian Garber?

“I’m not going to give him a phonebook at that time,” said Philippot, “(Or) introduce any kind of weapon into the room,” he said, again referencing Laporte’s demeanour.

 How can you take a potentially-incriminating swab from a suspect when they haven’t talked to a lawyer yet?

It’s a matter of generally-accepted practice, said Philippot. “Generally, I would take the swab before giving them access to counsel,” he said, later adding it was taken as soon as possible after learning there may be evidence to be gained from it.

He was unyielding in his answers: There is no requirement to let a person talk to a lawyer prior to obtaining the swab, even though it could be incriminating. 

“There’s no warrant required here,” he said.

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Peter Laporte trial notebook: 1

Image

I could swear I saw pale-skinned, pony-tailed Peter Laporte look wistfully at his mother from the prisoner’s box.

She had just turned up in courtroom 120 to testify against him.

It was one of those bizarro moments in court proceedings you don’t fully expect.

I’m likely dead wrong, but from the half-second glimpse he gave the woman from across the sterile room as she came in, I thought the best word to describe his look was: ‘wistful.’

After all, it’s not like he didn’t know it was coming, what mom likely had to say.

Ms. Laporte’s testimony wasn’t forced, tearful or in anyway reluctant.

She was asked questions and she answered each in a forthright, plainspoken and clear way — largely without emotion.

She’d smile once in a while when the lawyers didn’t get something she previously said exactly right.

I’ve spent a number of hours now sitting in Laporte’s hearing.

Not all of his trial, but a good chunk of it.

I’ll glance over at him from time to time to watch how closely he’s paying attention, making extensive notes on yellow paper and consulting frequently with his defence lawyer, Crystal Antilla.

I’ve followed Laporte’s extensive legal saga at a court-ordered distance since Nov. 25-26, 2008, when I exclusively uncovered his case for the Winnipeg Free Press.

That’s 3.5 years now it’s taken to come to a bona fide public hearing, if anyone’s counting.

Laporte’s pleaded not guilty to a list of serious charges, including ones relating to the alleged aggravated sexual assault of an eight-year-old boy.

And from what I’ve heard so far, not one witness called by the Crown could place him at the scene of any of the crimes.

To the alleged victims, the attacks were random, committed by a total stranger to them.

So far, by my reading, it has all the hallmarks of a classic ‘identity case’ — where it’s unclear in fact or law if the right suspect is the one police charged with the crime.

That all appeared to change Thursday afternoon, when Laporte’s mom testified that it’s her son on surveillance footage from the two apartment blocks where the crimes took place.

While that fact alone doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, it does place Laporte at the scene, thus creating tough hurdles for his defence to overcome.

I mean, when you have your own mother say (essentially), ‘Hey, that’s my boy there’ on video guiding a kid into an apartment stairwell just moments before a serious sexual assault takes place, that can only definitively be called one thing at this point: problematic.

Nevertheless, Ms. Laporte’s testimony may all come to naught.

Antilla will argue strenuously to have the mom’s testimony struck from the record based on an as-yet unrevealed legal argument.

But what really struck me about Lucille Laporte’s evidence is how it was obtained by police.

Laporte has been in continuous remand custody since Nov. 23, 2008, the day the allegations arose.

But it wasn’t until summer 2010 that sex-crimes investigators asked two colleagues completely unconnected to the case to bring Laporte’s mom in at the behest of the Crown to watch a few edited clips of surveillance footage from two apartment blocks in hopes of cementing the accused’s identity.

The mom wasn’t told any reason why she was being asked to look at the footage.

She was only asked if she’d come in and watch it to see if she recognized anyone.

That meeting didn’t happen until Sept. 2, 2010.

The exchange was, unusually, videotaped in a PSB office at Sgt. Cheryl Larson’s desk.

The mom is shown clips from a Cumberland Avenue apartment-block lobby (her own building).

“My son, Peter Laporte,” she says after viewing the entire clip. “I recognized him as his face turned to profile.”

She’s shown more clips of the inside of human shapes shifting inside a Mac’s store adjacent to the building.

“I don’t want to make a guess,” she says, carefully. “I’d be guessing.”

She’s then shown the lobby surveillance from the separate building where the boy was attacked.

“And then there’s Peter again,” she tells Larson. “Peter Laporte, my son.”

Larson plays her another clip — again of the Mac’s store.

Lucille doesn’t want to guess.

“Body shape, I’d say that was Peter,” she says, but adds she can’t be sure.

She’s shown one more clip of the lobby of her own building, where she at the time had lived for more than a decade.

“That was my son, Peter,” she says. “Yeah. That’s Peter.”

She said much the same under direct examination from Crown attorney John Field, who played her the video of her with Sgt. Larson as corroboration.

Ms. Laporte also divulged a number of other background details about her son.

Locked in a custody fight for his young daughter, Laporte came to live at his mom’s place in and around September 2007.

Prior to that, he had been gone “a very long time,” she said, later adding the last time before then she saw him was 2001-02.

But something happened on Dec. 15, 2007, she said. She awoke on the 16th to find him gone.

“I phoned the Public Safety Building first,” she told Field and Justice Perry Schulman.

She was told her son was in custody.

After going to see him at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, she learned Laporte had been charged with attacking a woman in her building, she said.

Laporte’s version went something like this, according to her testimony:

He had been trying to help a woman who appeared, bloodied, at the building’s entranceway.

He let her in to use the phone in the apartment, but after coming upstairs with him, she changed her mind and produced a bottle of wine.

They wound up in the stairwell, but later moved to the laundry room and drank until they passed out.

The next day (Dec. 16 2007) police arrest him and charge him with attacking her.

He told me she had a bleeding nose, blood on her face,” Ms. Laporte told court. “He didn’t think (her injuries) were severe.”

Laporte said her son came home in November 2008, saying that “lab work” had “exonerated” him and the charges were dropped.

Court records show the charges were stayed about 10 days before the allegations Laporte is now involved in fighting came to light.

The trial continues.

R. v Sanford, Cushnie and Richard – Trial notebook pt. 1

Obviously, I can’t be in court for every moment of testimony in this serious case, but will update this notebook as I go.

For those not in the know: Ivan Radocaj, 43, was killed in his isolated home near Inwood, Manitoba in September 2007. While he wasn’t found until the 14th of the month, police allege he was killed two days prior. Radocaj was a 6′ 8″ tall man who was well-known as a pro wrestler some years ago under the names “The Croatian Giant” or Big John Radocaj. I have no picture to offer of the man, but if there’s one out there, please send it my way.

In 2008: RCMP came forward with charges against his ex-wife, Melody Sanford, 47. Later, others, including Rita Cushnie, 57, and Donald Richard, 35, were authorized. Sanford and Cushnie are friends. Richard is Cushnie’s son.

Chris Houle and Dan Richard are dealing with their charges in separate proceedings, jurors were told.

Sanford, Cushnie and Richard pleaded not guilty today in front of a six-man, six-woman jury to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They are presumed innocent.

Notes to supplement mainstream media accounts: (Here, here and here)

The jurors hearing the case appear to skew younger than many panels I’ve seen. Many appear to be in their early 30’s, some younger. When they were handed autopsy and crime scene photo booklets today, I watched them for any reaction. To be honest, they betrayed no overt responses.

The QB judge presiding over the case is Justice Colleen Suche.

Crown Attorneys Mark Kantor and Brian Bell — Bell being fresh off the Mark Grant trial from earlier in the year — are the prosecutors.

Ryan Amy is acting for Sanford, John McAmmond for Richard and Mike Cook for Cushnie. All experienced criminal defence lawyers.

Mark Kantor delivered the Crown’s opening to the jury, it was measured and largely dispassionate in simply noting how the progression of witnesses will go [more on this below].

However, his and Bell’s styles are very different and Kantor is certainly more animated than his counterpart. It’s a similar pairing as was in the Grant prosecution, where Mike Himmelman was the one delivering the opening – pointing red-faced at the prisoner’s dock saying the jury would have no trouble finding Grant guilty of murder. In the end, jurors did, but of second, not first-degree.

The prosecution witnesses:

  1. Dr. John Younes, a pathologist who conducted the autopsy in the case.
  2. Cpl. David Chalmers, an RCMP forensic identification officer; expected to testify about notebooks he was given that contained diagrams of Radocaj’s home and a fingerprint belonging to Sanford.
  3. A friend of Radoaj who found his body on Sept. 14, 2007.
  4. A friend of Sanford’s who the Crown says is expected to testify about comments allegedly made on her wedding day where she expressed reluctance to get married.
  5. Another friend of Sanfords who is expected to testify Sanford allegedly made comments about “hiring a hitman.”
  6. Sanford’s daughter, who is expected to testify about the relationship about Sanford and Radocaj.
  7. Tim Richard, Donald’s cousin: is expected to testify he attended a number of meetings where the conspiracy was discussed; that Sanford allegedly got Radocaj out of his house to go to dinner while three others would go there and lay in wait for him to return. The cousin is expected to tell jurors he drove the getaway car and saw the alleged attackers leave with a TV set.
  8. An associate of Richards, expected to testify that he made comments regarding his involvement in the crime.
  9. An RCMP analyst to speak about phone records seized regarding the time frame of 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the date police say Radocaj died.
  10. Melody Sanford’s statement to police.
  11. Donald Richard’s statement to police.

First in the witness stand was Dr. Younes, who testified about the injuries Radocaj had sustained. As an aside, according to Younes, Radocaj suffered from “fairly advanced” emphysema. At the time he died, he was wearing jeans from which a pack of smokes was found and “light weather” clothing.

Younes stated of the eight head injuries he found, five he’d consider to be “major” or “significant.” These included a 14×9 cm abrasion to the right side of Radocaj’s face and a “penetrating injury” to his right forehead, described by him as “a very powerful blow inflicted with a weapon of some kind.” There was another large injury on the top of his head and the large man suffered a “shattered” brain base.

As Younes described the injuries, Sanford sat with her head cradled in one hand, her reddish hair covering her face as to make her reaction unknown. Richard stared straight ahead, as did Cushnie.

Radocaj had what Younes suggested could be defensive wounds on his left arm and wrist, as if he had tried to shield himself from blows.

The weapon used, said Younes, was a “bar of some kind,” not likely a bat because there would be more bruising.

Second on the stand was Cpl. Chalmers, who was called to the crime scene to photograph it on the date Radocaj was found. 27 photos were presented to the jury, four of them Chalmers didn’t take himself.

Key points of his testimony were that an entrance door to Radocaj’s home appeared to have been “forced inward from the outside,” but he could find no tool marks to indicate it had been pried open.

Radocaj was found face up in a cluttered area of the home, which was disheveled in parts. In the bedroom, the posters from the bed had been knocked to the floor, and the mattress was out of place.

Photos 23 and 23a were taken after the crime scene investigation, they are of notebooks given to him on March 6, 2008.

Fingerprints belonging to a Tim Richard were found inside, along with one of Sanford’s when he compared them to RCMP records, he testified.

Jurors have been told to expect three weeks of testimony.

Radocaj’s parents and other supporters were present in court today.

More to come.

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