Former Ottawa police Const. Jesse Hewitt did not read Charter rights or the right to counsel to either Charlie Wood or his co-accused, Gubar Atem, upon their arrest, and lawyer Cedric Nahum suggested the officer lacked grounds to arrest them in the first place.
The lawyer for the accused instigator of a violent drug ripoff is seeking to have key evidence tossed from court — including a sawed-off rifle and a bloodstained knife used in the robbery — alleging police officers trampled his client’s charter rights during his 2019 arrest.
Those alleged breaches of Charlie Wood’s rights, according to defence lawyer Cedric Nahum, began with the first officer to arrive on Nov. 7, 2019, to make the arrest: former Ottawa police Const. Jesse Hewitt.
Hewitt resigned from the Ottawa Police Service last October after pleading guilty in an unrelated case to 10 counts of misconduct under the Police Services Act for recording and mocking people in his custody, then circulating the videos to his policing peers. According to media reports, some of the videos featured people with disabilities, such as mental illness.
According to an outline of the 2019 armed robbery, which was heard in court this past week, Hewitt was one of the officers called to the scene at a Teron Road business park that Sunday night after two victims reported they had been robbed at gunpoint.
One of the victims told police he had arranged a deal to sell a half-pound of marijuana to a 19-year-old named Charlie Wood.
Around 9 p.m., according to the victim’s account, two Black men jumped in the back seat of a vehicle while a third masked man smashed out the driver’s-side window with the butt of a sawed-off rifle.
The victim was dragged into the back seat and stabbed in the leg as the robbers made off with the weed, his wallet and his girlfriend’s purse and cellphone.
When Hewitt arrived on the scene as backup 15 minutes later, he knew there had been a “violent robbery … a brutal and alarming drug rip,” Assistant Crown Attorney Hart Shouldice said. “And he knew that weapon was still at large.”
Hewitt spotted two men who fit the “vague” description that had been provided to police at that point, and he noticed one of them walking toward a car and tossing a satchel inside.
Hewitt “locked eyes” with one man — who he would later learn was Charlie Wood — as the officer approached the vehicle, grabbed the keys from Wood’s hands and arrested the two men after a quick search of the car turned up a satchel full of weed and a sawed-off rifle.
A bloody knife was recovered from the back seat, barely concealed under a black jacket. It was later analyzed and confirmed to contain the victim’s DNA.
Nahum, Wood’s defence lawyer, argued the gun and knife — and all evidence seized from the car that night — should be tossed from the judge-only trial due to the “repeated and continuous breaches” of his client’s charter rights.
Hewitt did not read charter rights or the right to counsel to either Wood or his co-accused, Gubar Atem, upon their arrest, and Nahum suggested the officer lacked grounds to arrest them in the first place.
“They were seen in the vicinity of the robbery … This is in the parking lot of a residential area,” Nahum said. “There’s so many (legitimate) reasons that these two individuals could have been in that parking lot that would have absolutely nothing to do with the robbery.”
Nahum accused the officer of having “tunnel vision” when he zeroed in on the two as suspects.
He argued there was a further breach when Hewitt reached into the car to discover the weapons.
Hewitt had earlier told court he felt he was facing a “life-or-death” situation and “decisive action needed to be taken.”
“These life or death circumstances, where (Hewitt) felt every moment was crucial and there were significant lives of civilians on the line, that his own life was on the line — this was all in his head,” Nahum said.
“He simply didn’t have grounds to detain these two, beyond a hunch … He put them in an investigative detention right from the start, before he had reason to believe they may have been involved,” Nahum said. “He jumped the gun.”
Wood’s rights were further breached, his lawyer alleged, when he was strip-searched at the police station and when, his lawyer said, police overstepped the authority granted in a warrant to search his phone.
Wood was eventually charged with armed robbery, possession of a dangerous weapon and possession of a weapon with ammunition.
Atem, his co-accused, was acquitted at trial in April 2021, with the judge saying he was left with reasonable doubt and calling the evidence against Atem “entirely circumstantial.”
The judge in that case, Justice Norm Boxall, noted in his decision that Hewitt was “aggressively cross-examined” at that trial.
“I found his evidence credible and, in fact, the arrest and recovery of the weapons would not have happened but for the manner in which (Hewitt) conducted himself that night,” Boxall noted.
The Crown argued this week that none of the evidence against Wood should be tossed. Even if it is excluded, “a conviction would still follow,” Shouldice argued.
“We have Charlie Wood — by name — setting up this robbery,” Shouldice said. “This robbery happens, and Mr. Wood is arrested nearby in the aftermath. In the Crown’s view, that in and of itself is enough to support a conviction.”
Shouldice said Hewitt acted with appropriate “restraint” during the sequence of the arrest.
“There’s nothing to suggest Const. Hewitt went in there with guns blazing, used any physical or psychological violence, there was nothing outlandish or over-the-top about his actions. He did not employ any use-of-force options, he did not exert any physical violence, he wasn’t threatening or overly authoritarian,” Shouldice said.
Besides, Shouldice said, the officer saw Wood throwing a satchel in the vehicle and soon discovered the satchel contained a gun.
“It’s not tunnel vision when the police catch a suspect red-handed,” Shouldice countered. “There was a robbery with weapons used, police attended and they found Mr. Wood in possession of the weapons used in that robbery. (Wood’s) name matched the name of the person who lined up the robbery.
“This is not tunnel vision. This is the police responding properly to this call and finding Mr. Wood right there with the weapons. These are dots that are not difficult to connect.”
Ontario Court Justice Anne London-Weinstein is set to render a decision in May.
Editor’s note: Former Const. Jesse Hewitt resigned from the police force after pleading guilty to misconduct under the Police Services Act for recording and mocking people in his custody. An earlier version of the story contained information about the charges that was unclear.