Woman suing Vancouver police says restraint device worst pain she has ever felt

VANCOUVER — A woman who is suing the City of Vancouver and four police constables for allegedly tethering her to a cell door wept in court as she testified about the homelessness and addiction she sank into after the alleged assault.

Bobbi O’Shea, 44, told a B.C. provincial court judge Tuesday that she began sleeping in shelters, lost her four children to their father and turned to crack cocaine to soothe her anxiety following the incident she said occurred in a Vancouver jail in 2008.

“I think I just was really harmed,” she said through tears. “I always thought the police were there to help you and protect you … I just wanted to stay high, to not feel anything.”

O’Shea testified she suffered a panic attack after smoking crack cocaine and Vancouver police took her to jail, where guards bound her feet together with a nylon strap and pulled it hard under a door. She said she was restrained for more than an hour, causing her excruciating pain.

The civil trial began with defence lawyer Iain Dixon saying the accused constables — who were working as jail guards at the time — have no memory of the alleged incident. Dixon said as a result two of them will not testify.

“They don’t recall it. It was not significant to them.”

Dixon also said the city is not liable because the woman failed to provide written notification within two months, as required by a law specific to Vancouver.

O’Shea testified she was homeless for about two years after the alleged incident. She said she always knew what happened was “wrong” but didn’t know where to get help.

She said she filed a police board complaint in 2009, but it was dismissed, so she filed her lawsuit in 2010.

Her lawyer, Doug King of Pivot Legal Society, entered the device as an exhibit. It is a black nylon strap with a buckle that can be tightened around a person’s ankles.

O’Shea testified that guards placed her in the device after she covered up a cell window with toilet paper to stop a male guard from seeing her use the toilet, and after she moved her cuffed hands in front of her body twice to wipe her nose.

She said guards seated her on the cold floor with her hands bound behind her back and her feet pressed against the door. The strap was pulled tightly around her ankles, she said.

“I felt like they were all tugging on it, trying to rip my feet off my legs,” she said. “I’ve never felt pressure like that before in my life… I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of there.”

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous story did not specify that two guards would not testify.

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