...apparently Hastings County isn't immune...
-- BELLEVILLE -- Shortly after midnight on April 6 of last year, here in the "Friendly City," a young woman was randomly attacked by a roaming pack of teenagers, thrown to the ground and kicked repeatedly about the head -- dislocating her jaw, ripping her skin raw, and giving her whiplash.*
It was a planned swarming, the victim inconsequential, with the attack committed by a dozen drinking-and-drugging kids, all under 17, for no other reason than 'for kicks' -- no iPod or cell phone robbery, just 'kicks'.
One of the gang even had his cell phone at the ready, and videotaped most of the incident -- showing the young woman being grabbed from behind and thrown to the sidewalk as she walked past the group, no provocation whatsoever, capturing the young woman's pleas for mercy, and then the profane, expletive-filled response of her attackers, primarily by the two girls putting the boots to her.
The obsessive new worlds of YouTube and Facebook had to be appeased with another video feed.
A witness called 911.
No cop car ever showed.
When the attack ended, and while the victim was still lying on the ground, bruised, bloodied and being consoled, a second 911 call was placed.
This time the caller was told no police car would be showing up, since all police units that night were involved in a "serious assault" that apparently included a stabbing.
"Come to the station," they were told.
Whatever the "serious assault" was that took precedence over two 911 calls, it should be noted that it never made it into the local Belleville Intelligencer, since no press release was ever issued on a major incident that reportedly necessitated the response of every available police unit in this city of 39,000 residents.
The young woman who was attacked, by the way, was my then 22-year-old daughter, Erin.
The trauma of that night changed her life.
With the attack happening in the middle of her final exams of her final year at Trent University, she had to bear down and fight the lost confidence that had invaded her.
And she had to do this with a dislocated jaw, around trips to Ottawa to see a specialist, and enduring treatments that quickly closed in on $5,000 and necessitated her wearing a dental appliance that makes her talk with a lisp -- all the while emotionally pondering the complexities of "why her" when, throughout her young life, she has been so good and so giving.
It was not an easy journey.
After all, it had all begun so innocently. Earlier that evening, she and her Ottawa-based boyfriend, Drew Paulusse, along with another couple, had attended a charity fundraising dinner in Belleville, and had then gone to a bar along Belleville's bar-motel strip to finish off the evening.
When one of their extended party wanted to check out another bar across the street, Erin and another girlfriend went with her for company and, upon their return, that's when the assault occurred.
Erin, still dressed to the nines from the charity dinner, was the smallest of the three -- 5' 3" -- and the only one the swarmers grabbed, this after the three were taunted by the gang as "sluts" as they walked up.
As one of her assailants later said, almost nonchalantly, "If it wasn't her, it would have been the next person."
All her attackers, as it turned out, were young offenders, some "known to police," including the two girls who were her primary attackers, and so it all fell under the protection and privacy offered by the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Manning the phones at the Belleville police station on the night of the attack was Const. Gina Giouroukous, a veteran officer assigned to the duty desk.
When Erin, her face swollen and her eyes red with tears, arrived at the station with her friends, Gina Giouroukous, the constable who also happened to take the 911 calls that evening, told them to "get the fuck out of here" and come back in the morning when they were "sober."
No denials of this were ever tabled.
Four days later, following my personal involvement, a belatedly written general occurrence report appeared, penned by yet another officer with no first-hand knowledge, that claimed there was no response to the 911 call on "the alleged assault" because it "appeared to be a punchup in front of a bar with no serious injuries and, judging by the conversation, all parties involved had been drinking."
There were five people who showed up to give evidence at the police station that night, by taxi -- Erin, her boyfriend, the young woman who called 911, not once but twice, another male friend and, most importantly, the youth involved in the swarming who had taken the cell phone video and who, in a brief exhibition of remorse, had stayed back, helped Erin off the ground, and then supplied her with the names of the two girls who had been the primary assailants.
When told at the police station to "get the fuck out of here," however, he did just that -- taking the video evidence with him and vowing no more participation.
That, he said, would be the end of his involvement -- with fear of retaliation for being a snitch his prime motivation.
The following morning, Erin shows up at the Belleville police station to formally give her statement.
She is in severe pain, and on her way to the hospital for X-rays once her statement has been taken. Her jaw has now swollen to the point that she can barely open her mouth, impeding her from even brushing her teeth.
She is interviewed by a uniform cop named Bill Madden, a Belleville constable with a couple of decades on the job.
He hands her a piece of gum, noting he could still smell alcohol on her breath.
"You should not have been walking down the street that late at night," Madden tells her.
To which she replied, incredulously, "Pardon me?"
Throughout the interview, Madden continually refers to the assault as being "alleged."
Erin gives him the names of her "alleged" assailants, as well as the name of the youth from the swarming who had given her those names, who had taken the video, and who had also reluctantly come to the station the night before when he was still feeling a twinge of guilt.
Following being kicked out of the police station, however, he had gone to ground.
He would now have to be tracked down.
Days later, I accompany Erin to Belleville for her second interview with Madden who, in the meantime, has secured the video from the youth whose name Erin had given him.
First time around, he had been dismissive -- to Erin in person, and later to me on the phone.
After seeing the video, however, he is now calling the attack "brutal and obviously unprovoked."
"This happens all the time in Belleville," he says, so matter-of-factly that it caught me off guard.
"Just kids with nothing better to do," he says, shrugging.
When asked about Erin's treatment at the Belleville police station the night of the attack after experiencing no response to two 911 calls, Madden then says this.
"What did you expect when she shows up at the station with her posse in tow?" he asks.
It was an unfortunate choice of words, and out of context with the reality.
"Posse?" I reply. "Did you say posse?"
He doesn't know quite how to respond.
"By posse, do you mean Erin's boyfriend, who happens to be a law-abiding university graduate and a environment technologist in Ottawa? Is he posse?" I say.
"Or how about the female witness? Is she posse?
"Or the other young man with them, who just happened to be a police cadet at the time, and is now a full-fledged member of the OPP?"
"Is he posse? I ask.
Madden has no answer.
The file is eventually turned over to Det. Tom Sweet of the Belleville Police criminal investigation unit.
Two girls -- both 15 -- are finally charged with assault causing bodily harm, and ordered to steer clear of each other as conditions for their pre-trial release.
On the very first night, the ringleader messages the other online as if it were all a joke, and is charged with breach of her bail conditions when the other girl's mother contacts police and turns her in.
And so the justice system begins ...
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