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Police officer broke man's ribs in jail, court told

A Yellowknife lawyer is calling for a lighter sentence for his client after an RCMP officer kneed him in the back while in jail, breaking two of his ribs.

Lawyer Jay Bran says his client broke two ribs when he was kneed by a police officer while in handcuffs in the RCMP holding cells last July. Bran said video shows the attack on Michael Cotchilly was unprovoked. Cotchilly's sentencing hearing is to continue today after he pleaded guilty Monday to assaulting and threatening the officer prior to the incident in cells. John McFadden/NNSL photo

Jay Bran told territorial court judge Garth Malakoe on Monday that his client, Michael Cotchilly, 42, suffered the two broken ribs and an injured lung after he was kneed by Const. Chris Alward while handcuffed in RCMP cells July 17. This followed an incident where Cotchilly had spit blood at the officer earlier that evening.
Bran has called for a three-month sentence Cotchilly, who has pleaded guilty to assault for spitting on the officer, threatening the same officer and breaching his probation.

Court heard Mounties had responded to a downtown apartment that evening after a report of an altercation. Cotchilly was taken out of the home at which time he spit blood on Alward's sleeve. According to Bran, Cotchilly had blood in his mouth as a result of the altercation inside the residence.

Crown prosecutor Billi Wun, who has called for a six-month jail sentence, told the court that once Cotchilly was put in the back of an RCMP vehicle, he threatened the officer.

“I'll kill you,” Cotchilly had said, according to Wun. “When I get out I'm going to knock you out.”

Wun said Cotchilly fought and kicked at officers once he was brought to the detachment.

“Spitting blood is aggravating because of the risk of contamination,” Wun told the court. Fortunately, in this case it did not enter his system. Wun added Cotchilly was hurt in the RCMP cells because he was resisting and fighting officers after he had already been arrested and handcuffed.

There is video of the incident in the cells and Bran said that it clearly shows Cotchilly was not resisting or fighting - and he was in fact handcuffed, laying on the floor when the officer kneed him.

Bran added at this point, he is not allowed to share the video with Yellowknifer.

“They dished out punishment, or in this case – kneed it out,” he told the court. “He was on the floor, he was not resisting – three officers watched as Alward knee-dropped my client.”

Bran added he doubts whether Wun had even seen the video because Wun's version of the events is not supported by the video.

Bran asked for the video to be played in court, but Wun would only agree to that if Alward was able to testify about the incident and the video at the same time. Wun told the court that Alward would be available to do that on Oct. 16.

Bran told the court the latest convictions on Cotchilly's record were his first serious offences since 2008. He said Cotchilly, a residential-school survivor, is the father of two adult sons. He was born in Inuvik and has spent time in Fort Good Hope, Fort Smith where he attended the trades program at Aurora College and Yellowknife. Bran said Cotchilly admits he has struggled with alcohol in the past but had not relapsed until recently.

Dressed in a grey and black sweater and jeans, Cotchilly bowed his head and seemed disappointed that the sentencing would not go ahead. He nodded several times to a woman seated in the back of the public gallery. It was not clear how he is connected to her.

Malakoe asked Bran and Wun if they could get together and review the video and see if some agreement could be reached as to what actually happened in the cells that evening.

Both sides are to be back in court this morning, at which time Malakoe will either sentence Cotchilly or put the matter over until Oct. 16, when it is expected the video from the cells would be played in court.

RCMP stated in an e-mail that the Edmonton Police Service was called in to investigate the in-custody injury. No other details about that investigation have been released.