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Sentencing hearing in Orillia for OPP officer guilty of assault

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An Ontario Provincial Police officer guilty of assault causing bodily harm for choking and pinning a woman against jail cell bars four years ago arrived at the Orillia courthouse on Thursday for a sentencing hearing.

Security video released from inside a holding cell in 2019 showed the interaction between Const. Bailey Nicholls and Shannon Hoffman, 43, who was accused of being intoxicated in public.

The video shows Nicholls' frustration with Hoffman as the woman tried to remove her jewelry. Nicholls is seen snapping off Hoffman's necklace and forcibly trying to remove her ring.

The officer then pushed Hoffman backwards into the cell bars and placed her hand on the woman's throat. Hoffman suffered a head injury from the incident that required five staples.

The Crown read a victim impact statement on behalf of Hoffman, saying the assault "has had a long-lasting impact" and calling it an "absolute abuse of power."

The Crown was seeking a 12 to 15-month conditional sentence for Nicholls rather than straight jail time so she could take care of her 11-month-old son, adding had she not had parental duties, it would have gone after 60 to 90 days in prison. The Crown argued a breach of trust by an OPP officer required a harsher penalty.

Nicholls' defence called for a conditional discharge with probation or a suspended sentence, calling the assault out of character.

In October, when Nicholls was found guilty, the judge said he found the officer's explanations to be "disingenuous and unsatisfactory" and that he was "troubled by P.C. Nicholls' refusal to acknowledge what is plainly seen in the cell video."

The defence said Nicholls had no intention of injuring Hoffman, that she made a mistake in a split decision and has felt shame and sadness since, adding the incident had significantly altered her relationships with family and friends, including the postponement of her wedding.

In statements provided to the court by Nicholls' colleagues, she was described as an exemplary officer and a model citizen, having volunteered for several organizations in Orillia.

The judge will now have a month to review Thursday's court proceedings.

Sentencing is expected to be handed down on April 4 in Collingwood.

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