It’s OK for cops to cry: A human moment at the Phillips trial

In a world where “citizen journalists” on the internet capture police officers at their worst, and some deservedly so, it’s important to balance that coverage with stories that often go untold.

In the early stages of the Brandon Phillips murder trial, one such tale was revealed this week to about two dozen people in a hushed St. John’s courtroom Friday.

It’s a story that speaks volumes about the uncertainty and danger police officers face on a call-by-call basis during every shift.

Const. Barry Reynolds of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary wore a dark suit to court that day, but he looks like a police officer. His buzz cut and meticulous appearance were a giveaway. You could picture him in a uniform.

Larry Wellman in 2006

Larry Wellman, seen in 2006, died after being shot during an armed robbery at the Captain’s Quarters Hotel in St. John’s. (Submitted by Wellman family)

He was the second witness to take the stand at the trial of the young man charged with killing 63-year-old Larry Wellman. He was also the first officer to respond to the Captain’s Quarters that October night in 2015.

Scarred by the experience

It’s a call he’ll never forget. One that has deeply scarred him.

Several times within the first few minutes of his testimony, the soft-spoken officer was asked to speak up. “I’m trying,” he told Judge Valerie Marshall, with a nervous smile.

Brandon Phillips with lawyers

Brandon Phillips speaks with his defence lawyers Jeff Brace, left, and Mark Gruchy at the Supreme Court courtroom where he is being tried for murder. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Seconds later, the 10-year veteran of the force was sobbing as he described how he felt that night when he entered the hotel where Wellman had been shot while reportedly trying to stop an armed robbery.

Wellman would not survive; he died later in hospital.

Reynolds’ candid, unabashedly real testimony appeared to catch everyone off guard.  

With his weapon drawn, Reynolds recalled what was going through his mind. ‘Would he be shot? Would he have to shoot someone?’ He thought about his wife and two daughters and if he would be going home that night.

It’s not something many people ever have to think about on the job.

His testimony was not contrived. It was not embellished. It was the most human account I have ever seen inside, or outside, a courtroom.

They rush while others flee

It was also a stark reminder that police officers are people, too. But they are the people who rush in, while others are running out. They are witness to horrific images, the likes of which the human mind cannot erase.

Reynolds spoke about the blood on the floor under Larry Wellman. He painted a vivid picture of how he held Wellman’s head in his palm, gesturing with his own hand as though he were holding something close to his face. Staring at his hand as though Wellman was right there with him.

Captain's Quarters police St. John's

Police secured the Captain’s Quarters after an October 2015 armed robbery that took a fatal turn. (CBC)

He spoke about the eye contact with the severely injured man, and how when Wellman blinked, he felt there was hope. Hope that he would survive.

Transfixed, the jury heard Reynolds recall how Wellman’s breathing became more strained and how all Reynolds could do was lie with him, in that pool of blood, to be close to him, to comfort him.

He spoke of Larry Wellman with the deepest of respect. It was too much for Wellman’s spouse, Linda McBay, and his daughter, Heather McGrath, who were seated together.

They each wiped away tears as the officer told his story. Several members of the jury did the same.

What police officers have seen

Following the recent suicide of RCMP Cpl. Trevor O’Keefe, a Clarenville woman organized a “walk a mile in his shoes” event to commemorate him.

Police and other uniformed officers are held to higher standards, but in the end are only human. 

She explained how O’Keefe had suffered in silence. She reminded us how people need to remember that when you see a police officer, you never know where he or she has just been.

Reynolds’ testimony drove that message home.

After lying next to Larry Wellman, he spoke about having to put that aside and moments later speak with other hotel patrons as though nothing had happened.

He had to forget what he had just witnessed and calm the young couple who were upstairs and just wanted to leave that hotel as quickly as possible.

In great detail, Reynolds recounted having difficulty filling out his report when he returned to police headquarters.

Shaking his head, he said “how do you write about a man who died in your arms?”

Bravery and compassion

How do you write that report? I’m not sure, but Reynolds is to be commended for not being afraid to reveal to the world the impact this had on his life.

Reynolds’ bravery and compassion that night, in some ways, can only be compared to his similar actions on the witness stand.

Police and other uniformed officers are held to higher standards, but in the end are only human. Not being able to show that is not natural and not healthy.

If nothing else, surely we’ve learned that by now — and, by extension, that it’s OK for cops to cry.

Testimony in the Brandon Phillips trial is expected to continue Tuesday.

Check out our CBC’s live blog for coverage in the first week of the trial. 


Read CBC NL’s previous coverage of the trial:

It’s OK for cops to cry: A human moment at the Phillips trial

Aggregated from: CBC | Newfoundland and Labrador News

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