Hamilton Spectator

Tue Mar 7, 2000 03:20 AM

Veteran cop fighting perjury charges

Barbara Brown, Justice Reporter
The Spectator

A veteran police officer pleaded not guilty to perjury arising from his testimony two years ago at a domestic assault trial.

Hamilton-Wentworth Constable Robert Precious is accused of intentionally deceiving a criminal court on April 3, 1998 by omitting from his sworn evidence some allegedly incriminating comments. The remarks in question were made by a woman who told police she had been assaulted.

The woman says she told Precious she stabbed a male friend in the neck with a dart while the man was beating and choking her.

Beulah Ritchie, 58, yesterday told Superior Court Justice William Festeryga she distinctly remembers telling Precious about the stabbing when the police officer took a witness statement from her on the night of Feb. 18, 1998.

Ritchie said that she was confused and surprised when Precious failed to mention the dart stabbing during his testimony on April 3, 1998 at the assault trial of her friend, Robert Fisher.

Fisher was eventually acquitted of the assault.

Ritchie said she confronted Precious after court and asked why he left out the part about her stabbing Fisher with the dart.

"He said he didn't want to say anything about that because I could have been charged (with assault with a weapon) over the dart," Ritchie told the perjury trial.

To avoid the perception of a conflict of interest, the charge against Precious is being handled by an outside prosecutor, Welland Crown Attorney Allan Root.

Perjury is an especially serious allegation when levelled at a police officer not only because it damages his or her credibility as a witness in court but also because such accusations can undermine the public's trust in the police service as a whole.

Precious's own career is also at stake and the outcome of these criminal proceedings will likely have a bearing on whether Police Act charges are laid.

Root asked Ritchie how she had responded when Precious told her he intentionally left out information about the dart because he was trying to protect her.

"I wasn't happy," she answered.

Ritchie said she was annoyed because she felt she had been made to appear foolish or crazy because Fisher was denying that she stabbed him in an effort to escape his choke hold on her.

Ritchie, who plays for a dart league, said she was practising in her living room when Fisher took offence at something she said. He dove across the coffee table, grabbed her by the neck, pined her down with his knees on the sofa, and was choking her. Ritchie said she reached up with the dart and either scratched or punctured Fisher's neck.

Ritchie said that while she was confronting Precious about the omissions in his evidence, the assistant Crown attorney in the case approached and interrupted their conversation at the former Hunter Street courthouse.

"She came over and said, 'What's this I heard?' And then she took him (Precious) in the back room," recalled Ritchie.

The witness told the accused officer's lawyer, Jeffrey Manishen, that she wasn't concerned when Precious cautioned her and advised her she could be charged with assault with a weapon.

"I didn't really care because I did nothing wrong. To me, it would have been self-defense," said Ritchie.

The trial continues today.

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