Edmonton police officer accused of using racial slurs, excessive force cleared after disciplinary hearing

Article content

An Edmonton police officer accused of using racial slurs against a man during a violent arrest has been cleared of professional misconduct.

Earlier this month, retired police Supt. Thomas Grue issued a sprawling, 131-page decision in the case of Edmonton Police Service constables Nathan Downing and Nicholas Talvio, who were involved in the March 25, 2015, arrest of Nasser El Hallak.

El Hallak said Downing assaulted him outside his home in Abbottsfield, punching him repeatedly in the head and calling him, among other things, a “f–ing n—” and a “f–ing Muslim.” El Hallak suffered bruising to his face as well as a fractured orbital bone.

Grue, the presiding officer at Downing and Talvio’s disciplinary hearing, heard evidence from 10 witnesses.

The hearing stretched nearly two years, with multiple starts and stops.

He said the testimony of the various players was so varied, an observer “could legitimately question whether these witnesses even participated in or witnessed the same event.”


Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

But he ultimately found the officer’s evidence more credible than that of El Hallak.

“In summary … Mr. (El Hallak’s) narrative consisted of an admixture of fact, pretense, faulty recollection, confabulation, and misconception,” Grue wrote.

“All counts charged against (the officers) have been found to be not proved.”

‘Not a case of gratuitous violence’

Downing and Talvio came into contact with El Hallak early on the morning of March 25, 2015. El Hallak testified he borrowed his wife’s truck around 3:30 or 4 a.m. to drive to a convenience store for cigarettes.

Grue noted that during the drive, El Hallak took a roundabout route and picked up two complete strangers, including a woman whose identity has never been determined, despite the fact he had only a learners permit.

Downing eventually spotted El Hallak’s truck, testifying the vehicle made a lane change without signalling and improperly turned from 118 Avenue onto Abbottsfield Road.

El Hallak eventually stopped in front of his townhome and exited the truck. The unidentified woman also got out and left the area.

El Hallak said Downing swore at him as he got out of the truck, saying “come here you f—ing n—–. I f— you up.”

El Hallak, who is from Libya, said he told Downing he is Arabic, to which Downing allegedly replied “you f—ing Muslim.”

A 2015 file photo of Const. Nathan Downing.
A 2015 file photo of Const. Nathan Downing. Photo by Trevor Robb /Trevor Robb/Edmonton Sun

The prosecution alleges Downing then chased El Hallak, tackled him and punched him in the face. Downing then brought him back to the police cruiser, where El Hallak claims Downing delivered two flurries of punches totalling more than 20 strikes.


Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

While handcuffed in the back of the cruiser, El Hallak made a comment about police in his home country, to which Downing allegedly replied “by saying something like ‘if he didn’t like it here he could go back,’” Grue wrote.

The officers then attached a spit mask to El Hallak’s face.

After a lengthy EPS Professional Standards Branch investigation, Downing was ordered to face a disciplinary hearing in 2018.

He was charged with six counts of misconduct under the Police Act: two counts of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority, a count of discreditable conduct and three counts of deceit.

Talvio was accused of “covering” for Downing and charged with deceit, discreditable conduct and neglect of duty.

Grue said the case forced him to decide “between two significantly disparate and competing stories.”

Downing said he did not utter any slurs at El Hallak, saying there was barely any time between the two men climbing out of their vehicles and the foot chase.

Grue concluded that Downing’s use of force was reasonable given El Hallak’s flight from police and his “continued resistance.” He said the injuries to El Hallak’s face likely resulted from the punch to his head and the force of striking the ground during the tackle.

“This is not a case of gratuitous violence employed by an out of control police officer,” Grue said.

‘Unthinkable in EPS culture’

Grue also found problems with the evidence El Hallak’s neighbour, Crystal Fox, one of the prosecution’s key witnesses.


Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Grue noted Fox said she only saw one series of punches — not two — and that Downing’s back obscured her view.

What she believed to be a series of blows was likely the spit mask being placed on El Hallak’s, Grue said.

She also testified that she “clearly remembered” Downing wearing glasses. The defence, however, produced evidence that Downing did not wear glasses before January 2016.

A photo of Nasser El Hallak’s injuries.
A photo of Nasser El Hallak’s injuries. Photo by David Bloom Supplied /David Bloom/Postmedia

As for the racial slurs, Grue found the prosecution’s evidence “unsatisfactory.”

“At best, the prosecution’s case could reasonably be stated as approaching, but not exceeding the balance of probabilities as required,” he wrote.

He added: “as a person who started their policing career in the 70s, it has been my experience that it has always been considered unthinkable in EPS culture to direct any kind of racialized language towards a member of the public.”

Michael Elliott, president of the Edmonton Police Association, lamented the amount of time it took to conclude the case, saying “it’s been very frustrating and stressful (for the officers).”

El Hallak’s lawyer, Kate Engel, declined to comment Wednesday evening.

Lawyers for the officers declined to comment.




Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Latest articles

Related articles