A Niagara Regional Police sergeant says he feared for his life when he fired 10 shots at a fellow officer on a rural Ontario road three years ago.
The confrontation that afternoon had started out as a verbal dispute over a bathroom break. But before Detective Sergeant Martin Shane Donovan knew it, there was shoving and punching, and then suddenly he and Constable Nathan Parker had their guns drawn.
“It was either me or him,” an emotional Det. Sgt. Donovan told a Hamilton courtroom Tuesday, on the first day of a trial – not against him, but against Constable Parker.
The 55-year-old constable, who was suspended with pay from the police force upon his arrest, is accused of assaulting a peace officer, assaulting with intent to resist arrest, and assault with a weapon.
Det. Sgt. Donovan was also initially charged, with attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. But those charges were withdrawn in 2019 by the Crown, which cited no reasonable prospect of conviction.
Det. Sgt. Donovan is the first witness to be called at his colleague’s judge-alone trial, which is being held before Justice Anthony Leitch of the Ontario Court of Justice in Hamilton, an hour’s drive from the region that both witness and defendant were responsible for policing.
From the witness stand, Det. Sgt. Donovan testified that he’d never once drawn his firearm on anyone before this unexpected escalation of violence on Nov. 29, 2018.
The 22-year veteran of the police force was in charge of the collision reconstruction unit at that time, and had that morning requested the assistance of a uniformed officer to help block off a rural road in Pelham, Ont., where his investigators were gathering evidence in connection with a crash that had taken place two weeks earlier.
Constable Parker was given the assignment. He took one end of the road, and Det. Sgt. Donovan took the other.
At some point, court heard, Constable Parker left his post. When he returned, he told the sergeant (in an exchange through the passenger side window of his cruiser) that he’d had to go to the restroom.
When Det. Sgt. Donovan told him not to do it again – that if he needed to leave, to let him know so that he could get someone to cover him – the constable snapped at him, “loudly and aggressively” for not having his radio.
“You’re talking to a sergeant,” Det. Sgt. Donovan reminded him.
Constable Parker got out, and as the two men came face to face at the foot of the cruiser, the detective sergeant braced for yelling. Instead, the constable shoved him.
“You’re under arrest for assault,” Det. Sgt. Donovan recalled telling him, after stumbling backward on the grassy roadside.
But the constable “just kept coming” at him, throwing “haymaker” punches at his head. Det. Sgt. Donovan blocked the hits, and threw his hands up in surrender.
“I want it to end,” he said. “It’s gone way too far already.”
But as he headed toward his SUV, he said Constable Parker followed, throwing another punch.
This time, Det. Sgt. Donovan returned with one of his own.
He recalled watching as Constable Parker then pulled out and extended his baton. Aware of the damage that weapon could do if it hit him in the head, he drew his gun and pointed it.
“Oh, you want to do this?” he recalled Constable Parker saying, before dropping the baton and pulling his own pistol from his holster.
At that point, Det. Sgt. Donovan told assistant Crown attorney Jeremy Tatum – his voice cracking on the stand – he feared for his life.
So he fired, first at his centre mass, and then lower on the body when that didn’t seem to be stopping him.
Ten shots later, Constable Parker dropped his gun and fell to the ground.
Det. Sgt. Donovan said he kicked the gun out of reach, and then picked it up and put it in his SUV. He then grabbed his radio to call for an ambulance.
Det. Sgt. Donovan will continue his testimony Wednesday.
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