Burnaby RCMP Const. Jason Cutler didn’t know he would be the one responsible for arresting Ibrahim Ali for murder until the morning it happened.
He had been a Mountie for less than two years when his watch commander directed him to attend an Integrated Homicide Investigation Team briefing at 8 a.m. on Sept. 7, 2018, according to Cutler’s testimony at Ali’s trial this week in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.
Ali, 33, is on trial for first-degree murder in the death of a girl whose body was found in Central Park on July 19, 2017.
He has pleaded not guilty.
The victim cannot be identified because of a publication ban.
Cutler was cross-examined by defence lawyer Kevin McCullough Wednesday.
Before he arrived at the IHIT briefing in September 2018, Cutler said didn’t know he was about to play a role in the homicide investigation, but he and his partner that day, Const. Bryce Sinclair, were soon tasked with Ali’s arrest during a co-ordinated traffic stop.
“At this meeting, would it be fair to say you would have been the junior-most officer?” McCullough asked.
“That’s a pretty fair assessment,” Cutler said.
During the briefing, Cutler said he had been given a “target sheet” with Ali’s information and directed to audio-record the arrest and the officers’ interactions with the suspect.
“Best practice is always to try and have an audio recording of the arrest and the Charter of Rights so they can review the materials and ensure that everything was covered off,” Cutler said.
(Burnaby RCMP officers weren’t equipped with body cameras, and their police vehicles didn’t have dashcam video, according to Cutler.)
Cutler said he decided to set the recorder in his vest in order to have his hands free.
“It’s always best to have free hands because, with the severity of the accusations toward Mr. Ali, my fear for the level of violence was obviously at a higher point,” Cutler said.
Ibrahim Ali arrest not recorded
Moments before the arrest, however, a police dog team vehicle collided with a civilian vehicle at the scene, and Cutler said he forgot to turn on his recorder in the commotion.
“I pulled the recorder out to turn it off and realized that I had not recorded it,” he said.
When asked whether he had questioned why he and Sinclair had been chosen to arrest Ali, even though neither of them spoke Arabic or Kurdish and Ali didn’t speak English, Cutler said “No, I did not.”
But he said police interpreters were talking to Ali within one or two minutes of him being placed in a police car.
Cutler said he was told Ali and the other men he was with were construction workers who had left a worksite shortly before the dramatic traffic stop on Imperial Street at about 11:30 a.m.
He said Ali was polite and co-operative throughout the interaction.
“Verbally and physically he was co-operative and well behaved,” Cutler said.
Cell phone evidence
During the arrest, Cutler said he seized Ali’s cell phone.
Two other police witnesses who testified Wednesday said police placed the black LG smartphone inside a foil Mylar bag designed to prevent it from being accessed remotely and then locked it in a police locker.
One of the witnesses, Cpl. Andrew Bemister, said he was tasked with extracting a phone number from the SIM card.
In her opening statement in April, Crown prosecutor Isobel Keeley said the jury would hear from witnesses who will testify about cell phone records that place Ali in Burnaby on July 18, 2017, the day the girl was reported missing.
Keeley said witnesses will also testify that the girl’s cell phone records dating back to the end of June 2017 showed no contact between her phone and Ali’s phones.
The Crown theory is that Ali and the girl were strangers to each other and that Ali attacked her inside Central Park, dragged her into the forest and killed her while sexually assaulting her.
The jury is not sitting Thursday because a juror is attending a funeral.
Witness testimony is expected to resume Friday.