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Cape Breton police officer defends investigation into fatal accident

The Cape Breton Regional Police Service logo is seen on the side of a CBRPS police file photo.
The Cape Breton Regional Police Service logo is seen on the side of a CBRPS police file photo. FILE
SYDNEY, N.S. —

The police officer who oversaw the investigation into the death of a 17-year-old male after a graduation party in 2018 defended his department’s work in testifying before a hearing of the Nova Scotia Police Review Board.

“It was a lengthy investigation with over 100 tasks assigned and between 175 and 200 reports completed. There was a lot of work done,” said Sgt. Michael Somerton of the Cape Breton Regional Police.

His testimony came during day four of the hearing by a three-member panel of the board into a complaint filed by John Parr whose son, Nathan Joneil Hanna of Sydney Mines, died after being hit by a vehicle along the side of the road on Highway 223 in Leitches Creek.

According to a police statement from Nathan Arsenault, who was with Hanna at the time of his death, the pair were sitting along the side of the road when Hanna was struck in the early morning hours of June 10, 2018.

Parr first filed his complaint with regional police and after an external review by Halifax Regional Police, it was concluded there were no disciplinary faults by the Cape Breton force.

Parr appealed to the review board which scheduled a two-week hearing into the matter.

The conclusion of the regional investigation into the death was to charge the driver of the vehicle that struck Hanna, Hayden Kenneth Laffin, 23, with obstruction of justice.

Somerton said the charge was based on contact Laffin had with police immediately following the accident.

Const. Stephen Sibley has already testified that Laffin told him, at the scene, that Hanna appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the road and then collapsed.

Somerton said Laffin never disclosed, until a day later when he gave police a formal statement, that he was driving the vehicle that hit Hanna.

“He didn’t disclose right away,” said Somerton.

"It was a lengthy investigation with over 100 tasks assigned and between 175 and 200 reports completed. There was a lot of work done,” — Sgt. Michael Somerton, Cape Breton Regional Police

Laffin was later committed to stand trial on the charge but in July, the Public Prosecution Service decided, after a further review of the case, not to proceed with the prosecution and dismissed the charge.

Parr’s complaint alleges numerous failings by regional police including the release of the Laffin vehicle back to the owners before a proper investigation was done.

Somerton said the allegation is false noting the vehicle had been thoroughly inspected by investigators before being returned to Laffin.

Also, Parr alleges that police failed to give Laffin a breathalyzer test but two officers to testify before the hearing have said they saw no signs of impairment on Laffin’s part and were left with no reasonable grounds to have Laffin submit to such testing.

The hearing has now heard from 10 witnesses, all officers with the regional service. The hearing is scheduled to resume Tuesday in Sydney with only two more witnesses to be called, both police officers.

Lawyers Laura McCarthy, representing Parr, Demetri Kachafanas, representing the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and David Roberts, representing NSGEU, the union representing police, will file written submissions after the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing.

The board panel, led by board vice-chair Jean McKenna and also includes Sydney resident Nadine Bernard and Sydney lawyer Stephanie Myles, will reserve a final decision to a later date.

Speaking to reporters outside the hearing room Thursday, McCarthy said testimony so far has suggested that the regional force may have lacked sufficient manpower on the night of the fatal accident.

She also said of concern to her client was that Laffin was allowed to leave the scene by Const. Sibley without confirming the decision with other officers.

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