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Cape Breton police greeted by hostile environment in breaking up graduation party

A Cape Breton Regional Police Services police car.
A Cape Breton Regional Police Services police car. - Contributed
SYDNEY, N.S. —

It was a slightly hostile environment that greeted Cape Breton Regional Police officers when they were called to help remove party goers from a graduation party that ended with the death of a 17-year-old Sydney Mines teen.

“The scene was chaotic and I couldn’t guess how many people were there,” testified Sgt. Erin Donovan-Mugford, a 20-year veteran of the regional service.

The officer said police were called in the early morning hours of June 10, 2018, by the homeowner to help remove people from the property.

“There was poor visibility, hundreds of people, beer bottles being tossed and some profanity directed at police,” said Donovan-Mugford, in agreeing with the suggestion from lawyer Laura McCarthy that the scene was somewhat hostile.

The testimony came during the third day of a hearing by the Nova Scotia Police Review Board into a complaint by John Parr that officers were negligent in how they investigated the death of his son, Nathan Joneil Hanna. Of particular concern was that Hayden Laffin was never asked to take a breathalyzer test.

Hanna, who had attended the party, was struck and killed by a vehicle driven by Laffin, 23, who had also been at the event. The party was being held at a property in Leitches Creek located on Highway 223. Crowd estimates have ranged from several hundred people to 1,000.

Donovan-Mugford said when she arrived on the scene, he asked the homeowner to turn off the sound system and the disco ball which helped signal the event was over.

She said vehicles were parked on both sides of the narrow rural road and people were milling about from the property to various vehicles.

“My main concern was that people stayed off the road,” said the officer, adding anyone she saw with open liquor was asked to spill it out and put the bottle away so it wouldn’t be used as a projectile.

“I had never encountered such a large crowd before,” she said, adding she issued a request for additional officers to help at the scene.

"The scene was chaotic and I couldn’t guess how many people were there,” — Sgt. Erin Donovan-Mugford

It was while attempting to move people along that Donovan-Mugford and other officers would be alerted that a male was unresponsive on the road a short distance away from the party site.

Donovan-Mugford called for the assistance of the police major crime unit as police also had a report that someone had been stabbed. The police traffic unit was later called in as evidence emerged that Hanna had been struck by a vehicle.

Donovan-Mugford said he did see Laffin at the accident scene and he appeared very distraught. She later came into contact with Laffin’s mother who had arrived to retrieve her son but Laffin had already left.

Const. Stephen Sibley had spoken with Laffin and determined he had not been drinking. A female on the scene offered to drive Laffin home and Sibley consented after taking Laffin’s personal information along with taking control of the vehicle.

Donovan-Mugford said it was permissible for Sibley to allow Laffin to leave the scene given police had his pertinent information and the vehicle and the driver taking him was sober.

In his testimony earlier this week, Sibley was adamant that Laffin exhibited no signs of impairment.

Since the hearing began Monday, nine witnesses have testified, all officers with the Cape Breton Regional Police.

The hearing is scheduled to resume today but not reconvene again until Tuesday.

Laffin was charged with obstruction of justice for lying to police about what initially happened. He told investigators Hanna suddenly appeared in the middle of the road and then collapsed.

He was committed to stand trial on the charge but in July, the charge was dismissed by the Public Prosecution Service.

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