Charges against former attorney general dropped in court on TuesdayPublished On Tue May 25 2010
After charges against him were dropped on Tuesday, former attorney general Michael Bryant admitted he has been humbled by the experience of being a lowly defendant after his highly publicized altercation on Bloor St. with a bicycle courier who died last summer.
“As for the justice system, I now have a unique perspective from its highest pedestal as attorney general to its pillory, a defendant cuffed in the back of a squad car accused of two very serious offences involving the tragic death of a man,” Bryant told reporters Tuesday.
“The whole experience has been incredibly humbling and rightly so.”
He stressed that the police and prosecutors working on the case did their job as independently and meticulously as possible to avoid the appearance and the fact of impropriety.
“What I will never forget for the rest of my life is the unnecessary tragedy of that night,” he said. “A young man is dead and for his family and friends that remains the searing memory. To them I express my sympathies and sincere condolences. I have grieved that loss and I always will.”
Bryant declined to explain in detail why he continued to drive his car when Darcy Allan Sheppard latched onto the side of his car on Bloor St. He said the prosecutor outlined the facts in court.
But he added the 28-second altercation with Sheppard that led to the cyclist’s death was horrifying. “I was terrified. Panicked,” he said.
“It happened just very quickly,” he added.
Bryant, 44, was charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death after the Aug. 31 confrontation Sheppard, 33.
“Given all of the evidence, in particular new information that has been discovered since the charges were laid, the charges must be withdrawn,” Richard Peck, a Vancouver lawyer brought in to prosecute the case, told a Toronto judge.
Peck added the decision to drop the charges was “mine and mine alone,” and said no one from the Attorney General’s office had any input into the decision-making process.
As attorney general, Bryant was once in charge of appointing Ontario judges and prosecutors. Peck was brought in to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
Bryant, wearing a blue suit and striped purple tie, sat stoned-faced as Peck addressed the court.
If the prosecution determines there is no reasonable prospect of conviction then the charge must be withdrawn, Peck told the judge Tuesday morning in a courtroom packed with reporters.
“This case falls short of that standard and I’ll explain why,” he said.
Peck said on the night of the incident, Bryant and his wife, Susan Abramovitch, were driving west along Bloor St. in a 1995 Saab convertible around 9:30 p.m. Their evening began with dinner at a Lebanese restaurant on College St., a walk in the Beach and dessert on the Danforth before they headed home to see their two young children. They were celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary and drank no alcohol.
The top and windows of the Saab were down. As they neared the intersection of Bloor and Yonge Sts., Bryant saw someone throwing objects onto the roadway attempting to impede traffic, Peck said. He was later identified as Sheppard.
While continuing westbound on Bloor St., Bryant came to a red light at a pedestrian crossing between Bay and Avenue Rd.
Peck said in the moments before Sheppard died, he cycled past Bryant’s vehicle along the driver’s side and then cut in front, stopping his bike directly in front of the convertible Saab and blocking its way.
When Bryant hit his brakes, the vehicle stalled. Peck said Bryant was trying to get away and attempted to get his car started when it stalled again, causing it to lurch forward. That was when “Mr. Bryant’s vehicle came close to or in contact with the rear wheel of Mr. Sheppard’s bike,” Peck said.
“At this point, Mr. Bryant describes himself as being in a state of panic. He says that Mr. Sheppard was becoming enraged.”
When Bryant got the car restarted, it accelerated into Sheppard causing him to land on the hood. Bryant hit the brakes and the cyclist fell, but stood up and did not appear at that point to be seriously injured.
Bryant reversed and then tried to drive forward around the bicycle.
“Mr. Sheppard threw his backpack, which struck either the hood or windshield and bounced onto Bloor St.,” Peck said. “Mr. Sheppard then jumped onto the vehicle as it drove away.”
After Sheppard “latched onto the vehicle,” it veered left and continued west in the oncoming eastbound lane. Expert analysis conducted by Crown and defence investigators determined the car was travelling in the range of 34 kilometres an hour, in contrast to eyewitness accounts that it was driving between 60 and 100 km/h.
“Although certain eyewitnesses described the vehicle as swerving and driving onto the sidewalk in an attempt to dislodge Mr. Sheppard, forensic examination has demonstrated that the Saab did not rub against the curb or mount the curb at any time,” Peck said.
“A fire hydrant was located close to the south curb in the area if 131 Bloor St. The distance from the fire hydrant cap to the curb was one foot. This fire hydrant caught Mr. Sheppard on the left side of his torso,” Peck said.
“This caused Mr. Sheppard to dislodge from the car, ultimately striking his head, either on the curb or a raised portion of the roadway. The impact was fatal.”
Peck told court Tuesday eyewitness accounts coupled with forensic examinations suggest Sheppard was attempting to enter the vehicle and attack Bryant during the encounter. He acknowledged witness accounts varied considerably about the vehicle’s movements along Bloor with Sheppard “latched onto the side.”
Police had alleged that Bryant took off, crossed into the oncoming lane and mounted the curb, dragging Sheppard between 50 and 100 metres.
Witnesses told police the cyclist fell from the vehicle after striking a mailbox and a tree.
Sheppard’s blood alcohol level was measured after his death at 0.183 — more than twice the legal limit for driving — and he had a history of altercations with other motorists, Peck said. Also earlier that evening, before the encounter with Bryant, police received a 911 call from a resident of a downtown apartment building about a possible domestic assault involving Sheppard at his girlfriend’s apartment. Peck noted the assault was denied by the occupants “and which the Crown makes no determination about.” There was also another alleged assault outside the building.
The prosecutor outlined six other incidents that came to light after Sheppard’s death, including one in which an elderly woman described Sheppard as a “mad man.”
Peck said four of the previous incidents happened during the month of Sheppard’s death, and showed “an escalating cycle of aggressiveness toward motorists.” All of the motorists who came forward were interviewed extensively, he said, and in one case surveillance photos captured the altercation.
Peck said he was outlining the incidents because they had “significant legal relevance” and not in any way to “demonize” Sheppard or suggest he deserved what happened.
Allan Sheppard, the dead man’s adoptive father, said after that if he had been presented with the same evidence he wouldn’t have insisted on a trial. “I’m content with the result as it came,” he said on the steps outside Old City Hall.
He was asked if justice was done. “I don’t know what justice is in this circumstance. I’m not happy with the result. I’m not sure what would have made me happy.”
He said that he genuinely believes that the people who made the decision to withdraw the charges listened to him. “They talked to me with great respect and they reached a decision and I’ll accept it.”
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Bryant thanked people for their support.
“The system worked with excruciating independence,” he said.
Source @ Toronto Star
I'd love to hear opinions on this. Bryant's reaction seems kind of... extreme, but I can't say that I wouldn't panic and do the same, given some of the reports of the courier's past altercations with other drivers. This whole saga has been a little weird.