VPD officer's testimony questioned in combative hearing on excessive force
BURNABY, B.C. -- A public hearing is finally getting answers about how a wellness check on an East Vancouver woman turned into an all-out brawl between several police officers and an entire family, as lawyers called into doubt several aspects of an officer’s testimony.
Const. Eric Ludeman took the stand Wednesday, insisting that he was reacting to an urgent call about a domestic dispute — one which justified only spending about 30 seconds at the door with Vladimir Tchaikoun, trying to check that his wife Natalia was OK.
“We had credible information that a man had struck his wife. You can’t unring that bell,” Ludeman told a public hearing into whether the officers used excessive force and made improper entry into the Tchaikoun household.
“I grabbed Mr. Tchaikoun by the forearm. It felt like he was carved out of oak. I pulled him and didn’t move an inch,” Ludeman said, describing how he instead pulled himself towards Tchaikoun, knocking them off balance. He said he ended up trying to subdue Tchaikoun in the townhouse bathroom while his partner, Const. Neil Logan, fended off family members trying to intervene with punches and kicks.
But upon cross-examination, the urgency of the situation seemed to evaporate, as it emerged that the pair took more than two hours to arrive at the residence. The 911 call was from a neighbour who had no direct knowledge of the alleged slap, which the family denies happened. Ludeman also missed opportunities to get the wife, Natalia Chaikun, on the phone, lawyers suggested.
And even though Ludeman and his partner described a gruff, stern response from Tchaikoun, a Ukrainian immigrant, lawyers asserted what the officers thought was his refusal to co-operate was actually a conversation in Russian with his daughter to go and get her mother to come to the door.
“I don’t know how he can say all those things,” said Natalia Chaikun outside an office in Metrotown, which is being used as a hearing room.
“His actions, his aggression, his abuse of force — it’s unbelievable,” said Vladimir Tchaikoun.
Tchaikoun’s recollection is that the officers arrived and within a very short time started hitting him, trying to tackle him in the bathroom. His shocked son, wife and daughter joined the fray as they heard Tchaikoun yelling, “They’re killing me!”
Photos of the aftermath show a hole in the wall, handcuffs on the ground, and Tchaikoun’s face and body covered in bruises and blood. Natalia Chaikun told reporters on Tuesday that she had been kicked several times in the stomach in the melee.
Several members of the family were charged with assaulting an officer, but the charges were stayed.
“They came to check my well-being but they finished taking myself and my son to prison,” Natalia Chaikun told reporters.
On questioning from commission counsel Bradley Hickford, Ludeman stuck to his guns, saying he felt the door closing with his boot and said he had to act immediately.
“Can you accept the proposition that if you’d waited a bit longer and made more effort with verbal communication that this all could have been avoided?” Hickford asked.
“No, because he was closing the door on me. That was the moment, that deciding factor,” Ludeman said.
That door was spring-loaded, and the closing Ludeman felt had nothing to do with Tchaikoun’s reaction, Hickford suggested.
Hickford also asked what took the pair so long to get to the house.
“I think we drove to the gas station at Victoria and Kingsway. I believe it was either me or Const. Logan that had to use the bathroom,” Ludeman said.
“A 35-minute bathroom break?” Hickford asked.
“I’m sure the entire time wasn’t using the bathroom. We also had to drive there as well,” Ludeman said.
In testimony Tuesday, Const. Logan said that he hadn’t been listening to much of the conversation Ludeman had over the phone and with the 911 caller, relying on Ludeman to relay it. Logan also said he couldn’t hear the conversation between Ludeman and Tchaikoun, saying he jumped in because he felt his partner was threatened.
Logan is also facing a review on the record for an alleged attack on his then-girlfriend in Oregon, which also damaged a car windshield.
Logan’s lawyer, Kevin Woodall, on Tuesday applied to allow him to testify on video because of a medical condition, but the adjudicator, Carol Baird Ellan, said she hadn’t heard any evidence that Logan’s medical condition was relevant.
Ellan has now heard all the evidence and lawyers will make closing submissions this week.