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Ex-Mountie says he was told to drop sexual assault case because N.S. woman was lying

Carrie Low, left, arrives to provide her testimony at a Police Review Board hearing in Halifax on Monday, July 10, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese) Carrie Low, left, arrives to provide her testimony at a Police Review Board hearing in Halifax on Monday, July 10, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)
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DARTMOUTH, N.S. -

A former RCMP officer testified on Thursday that he was ordered to stop investigating an alleged sexual assault because his superiors thought the woman involved was lying.

Jerell Smith told the Nova Scotia Police Review Board that he was assigned to Carrie Low's sexual assault case but was immediately ordered to close the file. Low's complaint, filed with the review board, alleges police officers mishandled the investigation after she reported being driven to a house in the Halifax area and raped by at least two men on May 18, 2018.

"I was told to close the file, to not proceed with the investigation," Smith testified, "which threw me for a loop because I'm not a supervisor, I'm not able to close files."

Smith, the initial investigator assigned to the case, was a member of a specialized sexual assault unit composed of RCMP and Halifax police officers. He said there was "minimal information" in Low's file when he received it four days after her alleged assault.

He told the review panel he decided to continue investigating the case, against his superiors' orders, because he was "trying to figure out what was going on."

Smith said Halifax Regional Police Staff Sgt. Don Stienburg told him that Low, during an interaction with the police the day after the alleged sexual assault occurred, had admitted to lying about what happened. But Smith said that after analyzing her file and conducting interviews, he determined that the false rape claim had been made by Low's friend. That friend, he said, later apologized for muddying the waters of Low's investigation.

The ex-Mountie said he was told that police obtained video taken of Low in public at the time she had claimed to have been kidnapped, but Smith said he determined the woman in the video was not Low.

He said that during a phone call with Low, she said her clothing from the night she was allegedly raped had not been collected by police, and that she had not been brought in for a statement. He told the review panel that he felt police purposefully obstructed the case because Low was complaining about the police investigation.

"She was viewed as a bad person, someone we should be careful with," he testified.

He said he felt misdirected and misled by information given to him by his superiors. When presented with his notes from the case file, Smith said he couldn't substantiate them and accused other officers of changing key information in the notes.

The "harassment and bullying" he said he faced by his fellow officers led him to take a stress-related leave.

An internal RCMP review found that Smith was negligent in failing to secure the scene of the alleged assault and in delaying tests on Low's blood sample, rape kit and clothing. The officer has not returned to policing.

As a consequence of his decision to pursue the case, Smith said he fears for his safety and has been "criminally harassed" by members of the province's police community. Smith told review board chair Jean McKenna that he gave a statement to police on Wednesday night regarding the alleged harassment.

Smith, who did not have a lawyer with him Thursday, did not directly answer when McKenna asked him whether he had been physically threatened.

"I'm fearful to be here today to testify," he said. "I am fearful of this board, fearful of people being involved in this situation."

Lawyers for Low and for Halifax Regional Police officer Bojan Novakovic, who is the subject of her complaint, said Smith's testimony could be delayed until Monday in order for him to secure legal representation. But Smith refused, saying he wanted to "get this done and move on with my life."

Novakovic, the first officer to interview Low after the alleged sexual assault, testified earlier this week. He had been docked eight hours pay for his handling of Low's case. In response, Low appealed that penalty to the review board, and she has also requested that the board make recommendations to improve the Halifax police force's response to sexual assault survivors. Low's lawyer has said the legal team was considering what appropriate disciplinary sanctions should be sought against Novakovic.

Smith's testimony ended abruptly on Thursday, after a tense exchange with Halifax Regional Police lawyer Ted Murphy on the subject of RCMP policies. At one point, Murphy raised his voice during Smith's cross-examination, upsetting Low.

"I feel this process has been re-traumatizing," she said, in reference to the exchange between Smith and Murphy.

Smith's testimony is expected to continue next week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2023.

For the latest Nova Scotia news, visit our dedicated provincial page.

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