Fatal hit-and-run charges dropped after judge rejects Calgary police interrogation techniques

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Fatal hit-and-run charges dropped after judge rejects Calgary police interrogation techniques

After beating his fourth set of criminal charges, Robert Mark Varley took a swing at reporters as he left the Calgary courthouse on Wednesday, while the family of the woman he was accused of killing remained inside sobbing and holding each other.

"I got nothing to say," Varley said after swatting two reporters in the hands in an effort to knock their phones away. 

Farida Abdurahman, 33, was mowed down in a crosswalk two years ago on Centre Street N. near 43rd Avenue late at night on July 27, 2015. Varley, 60, was arrested hours after Abdurahman's death.

Charges against Varley were dropped Wednesday after Court of Queen's Bench Justice Rosemary Nation ruled police had undermined Varley's right to remain silent during an interrogation.

When the judge decided to exclude much of Varley's recorded statement, prosecutor Thom Forsyth directed a stay of proceedings because he had "no reasonable likelihood of conviction" without the accused's admissions.

Abdurahman's family, some of whom traveled from Ethiopia for the trial, say they are taking the highroad and offering "forgiveness and mercy" to Varley.

"What does forgiveness mean? Forgiving means not carrying a grudge in your heart," said the victim's mother, Ayni Mohammed, through a family friend. 

This is the fourth time Varley has walked away from criminal charges. He beat three sets of drunk driving offences in British Columbia before he moved to Calgary in 2011.

On July 28, 2015, about 10 hours after Abdurahman was hit, Varley was arrested and brought to police headquarters once police found his damaged Buick Regal a few blocks away from the collision.

During the videotaped interview played in court on Monday, Det. Mark Enright and Const. Dennis Vink repeatedly belittle Varley's first lawyer as a strategy to keep the suspect from asserting his right to silence, a violation of his Charter rights.

"He's sitting at home, or in his office doing whatever, probably has an afternoon tee time," Vink says of the suspect's lawyer. "For him, it's a paycheque, that's all it is."

During the interrogation, the officers also tell Varley they have direct communication with the judge, who they say might go easy on the suspect if he confesses. 

Nation agreed with Varley's lawyer that the belittlement of the lawyer by police was a turning point in the interview; after that, he confessed to hitting what he said he believed to be an animal — a dog or a deer. 

Defence lawyer Steve Wojick says there are many acceptable techniques during an interrogation, but insulting someone's lawyer with the goal of undermining them is not one of those.

"I hope this case sends that particular message," said Wojick. "I hope that it improves the interrogation techniques of the Calgary Police Service."

Judge addresses victim's family, Varley

But the victim's family says they have no hard feelings toward Calgary police.

"They were the people that were there for us," said family friend Iman Tewfik. "They helped [the victim's] brother when he came from airport to get him to the burial spot."

Calgary police released a statement regarding the decision saying they're limited in what the organization can comment on given the case could be appealed.

"Regardless, we take these comments extremely seriously," reads the statement. "Whenever there is a ruling of this nature we commit to conducting a review to determine exactly what happened; if there are any lessons that need to be learned, we will ensure we follow-up accordingly."

"Until we have further details, we are not able to provide additional comment at this time. Our thoughts remain with the family of the victim in this case."

Varley was charged with impaired driving in 2003, 2004 and 2009 in Richmond, B.C. He pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of careless driving for the 2003 and 2009 infractions and was acquitted of the 2004 charge.

Before adjourning Wednesday, the judge addressed both Varley and the victim's family.

"Mr. Varley, I hope that you've learned something from this experience," said Nation. "I hope your conduct in the future keeps you out of the justice system."

To the family, she acknowledged their grief.

"I just want you to know that I did not make the decision I had to make lightly in this case."