DIGBY— A local school board member and black community activist says he can’t believe he’s been charged with obstructing an RCMP officer during a ruckus in a Yarmouth liquor store last June, especially because he says he was never arrested.
Rev. Michael Alden Fells, 47, of Digby said this week he’ll represent himself and is planning his defence for the Dec. 15 trial Yarmouth provincial court where he faces a charge of causing a disturbance in addition to the obstruction charge.
His two sons, Brian, 25, and Nathaniel, 21, were charged with causing a disturbance during the same incident.
In the interview Fells said he was in Yarmouth on June 10 — his birthday — visiting with his father. That evening, while at a local grocery store, Fells said he learned a dispute involving his two sons was unfolding in an adjacent liquor store.
Fells said his younger son was asked to show identification and complied by taking his ID card out of his wallet, but would not physically give it to the clerk because he’d seen a clerk at another liquor store keep an ID card.
Staff at the Yarmouth store refused to serve his son and the manager called 911, Fells said.
He said his son asked for the name of a supervisor but was not given a contact. The manager simply wanted him to leave.
Police came and one officer grabbed the hand of one of the sons, Fells said. Another officer pushed him and he pushed back, he said.
But a document from the Yarmouth Crown attorney’s office, which was prepared with RCMP input and forms part of a disclosure packet given to Fells, tells a different story.
It said the two responding RCMP officers "went above and beyond to remain respectful and calm" while dealing with the Fells family."They remained sensitive to their concerns of racism, which was clearly fuelling their anger, and gave them plenty of chances to walk away," the document said.
The document also said police decided that no one needed to be arrested and that their goal was to have everyone disperse.
"We left first. None of us were placed under arrest. None of us were detained," Fells said.
On the night of the incident, Fells said he complained about his treatment by the officers via a telephone call to an RCMP dispatch centre and asked for someone to call him back, but no one from the RCMP returned his call.
Forty days later, on July 20, Fells said he was served with papers detailing the charges against him.
RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Brigdit Leger confirmed Tuesday that a public complaint has been received by the RCMP in connection with the Yarmouth liquor store incident, but said police couldn’t disclose the nature of the complaint or who made it because "that investigation is ongoing."
Mounties won’t talk about the upcoming trial either.
"Because the matter is currently before the court it’s essential that we protect the integrity of that judicial process," Leger said.
It is clear from the Crown disclosure documents that the liquor store manager, Wayne Milbery, did not want to press charges. It details how Milbery told police he’d check with head office but said he, personally, wanted no one charged.
On Tuesday, Milbery deferred questions to the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission head office but did say, "There’s more to it than that."
Calls to Rick Perkins, the liquor commission’s vice-president of communications and corporate responsibility, were not returned.
Fells also says that only 45 seconds of the liquor store surveillance tape are included in the prosecution’s disclosure package. He said he plans to arrange for several witnesses to testify for the defence during December’s trial.
Fells’ son Nathaniel was involved in 2008 incident in Digby in which racial slurs were alleged to have been directed at two black men by off-duty police officers, including some from Halifax.
As a result of an investigation into the incident, which included a scuffle, the man Nathaniel Fells was with and a Halifax police officer were charged with causing a disturbance by fighting. The charges never reached trial because the matter was diverted to the province’s adult diversion program.