Manitoba Mountie acquitted of assault charges after woman’s arm, nose broken in custody in 2022

A Mountie in a south-central Manitoba city has been acquitted of two assault charges after an intoxicated woman’s arm and nose were broken while she was in police custody nearly two years ago.

RCMP Const. Tyler Hoogkamp was charged with assault and assault causing bodily harm after he punched a detained woman in the face as she was lying down inside a cell at the RCMP’s Portage la Prairie detachment in July 2022, and later pushed her.

During a six-day trial, Hoogkamp testified that he believed the woman posed a risk before taking both of those actions. His lawyers argued that they were justifiable uses of force and acts of self-defence under sections of the Criminal Code.

In a written decision dated May 29, Manitoba provincial court Judge Patrick Sullivan concluded that Crown prosecutors failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that both actions by Hoogkamp were an excessive use of force.

“My decision should not be interpreted as an approval of the force used by Const. Hoogkamp,” he wrote, implying that he could have come to a different conclusion had prosecutors proved that Hoogkamp’s actions were excessive beyond a reasonable doubt.

The onus was on the Crown to prove Hoogkamp’s actions were an excessive use of force since they admitted there is “an air of reality” to his defence, Sullivan wrote.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba — which investigates all serious incidents in the province involving police — announced assault charges against Hoogkamp in November 2022, following an investigation after RCMP said a woman sustained a broken arm and nose in their custody earlier that summer.

Sullivan’s decision says officers arrested the woman for causing a disturbance in Amaranth, Man., after finding her “screaming incoherently” and banging on the door of her own home in the early-morning hours of July 1, 2022.

She was highly intoxicated after consuming an “astonishing” amount of alcohol, including a 40-ounce bottle of vodka on her own during the day, and a 60-ounce bottle shared with friends in the evening, according to Sullivan’s decision.

The woman, Hoogkamp, and other witnessing officers testified during the trial, as well as two experts on use of force called by both the Crown and Hoogkamp’s lawyers.

‘Rapidly unfolding’ circumstances led to punch

Surveillance video shows the woman was placed in a cell shortly before 2 a.m. on July 1, but removed her shirt and tied it around her neck in an attempt to strangle herself soon after she got there, according to Sullivan’s decision.

Hoogkamp then entered the cell with two other officers to remove the shirt from the woman’s neck. The woman rolled on her back, and her heel hit Hookcamp’s thigh, before he punched her in the face.

Hoogkamp testified that he punched the woman because he feared she would kick him a second time in a vulnerable area, like his knee, groin or face.

The punch took place “in a rapidly unfolding set of circumstances,” in which Hoogkamp had just seconds to react after the woman lifted her leg and kicked him, Sullivan concluded.

Although there were two other officers with him, he said none of them had control of the woman, the judge wrote, adding that he had doubt that Hoogkamp’s perception of the risk posed by the woman was objectively unreasonable.

After she was punched, security footage shows the woman lying motionless in a pool of her own blood, according to Sullivan. She is later seen removing other pieces of clothing and using them to try to strangle herself again.

Hoogkamp is seen in the woman’s cell again shortly before 6 a.m. after helping to remove a sleeping mat, according to Sullivan. The woman, seen naked from the waist up, stands before Hoogkamp in the middle of the cell, as he appears to order her to sit down.

“She then makes an abrupt movement, bending her knees and dipping down to her left,” Sullivan wrote. “At which point, Const. Hoogkamp uses two hands to push her back, resulting in her falling into a sitting position on the bench.”

Hoogkamp testified that he interpreted the woman’s movement as a “an assaultive gesture” or “threat cue,” and that his immediate reaction was to push her in order to create time and distance between them, but not to harm her.

Sullivan concluded that Hoogkamp’s push was proportional and objectively reasonable given the circumstances.

The Crown’s use of force expert, Ste. Anne police Sgt. Kelly Keith, testified that Hoogkamp’s punching of the woman was “grossly, grossly, disproportionate” to the threat she posed to officers, but said he did not know what to make of the push.

But the defence’s expert, Christopher Butler — a retired inspector from the Calgary Police Department — testified that Hoogkamp’s actions were proportionate to the risk posed by the woman.