Vernon man exonerated in sex assault says police publicity 'completely destroyed my life' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon man exonerated in sex assault says police publicity 'completely destroyed my life'

January 30, 2021 - 12:00 PM

Dressed all in black and choking back uncontrollable tears, a 28-year-old Okanagan man walked out of a Vernon courtroom today having been acquitted of two charges that stem from a Tinder date he went on when he was 24.

But Riley Brucks knows he remains branded a sex offender. Long before he was tried, Vernon RCMP issued a news release seeking him on charges of sexual assault and sexual interference. Search his name online and multiple news organizations, including, have very brief stories written from the release. Police even included a photo.

"It completely destroyed my life,” Brucks said through tears.

He’s not a sexual offender.

Yesterday, Jan. 29, B.C. Provincial Court Judge Richard Hewson read out a clear and concise judgement that found him not guilty for the simplest of reasons.

Judge Hewson said Brucks took "all reasonable steps" to ascertain the girls' ages. He had thought they were 17. They weren't, they were 14 – and he had sex with both of them.

Speaking to minutes after his not guilty verdict, it was clear Brucks had not yet processed the fact that he had been exonerated.

"I don't know how to feel," he said with tears flooding down his face. "I felt like I was guilty until proven innocent, that's what it has felt like the whole time."

While it's not unusual for individuals charged with sex offences to be found not guilty, what is unusual is how police handled his case. Two years after the alleged offence they laid charges, then issued the call for public help finding him on sex charges without him even knowing of the charges.

The Oct. 2, 2019, Vernon RCMP media release asked the public for assistance in locating Brucks.

“Wanted on two separate charges of sexual assault and sexual interference,” reads the release.

The Tinder date took place in August 2017, but charges weren’t laid until July 2019. Then, two-and-half months later, after the RCMP hadn’t contacted him, they made his name public.
Brucks said he had no idea he was even charged or that there was a warrant out for his arrest until a friend messaged him and told him he was on the news.

Making those charges public, he says "completely destroyed my life.”

He immediately handed himself into the police, and the Vernon RCMP put out another release saying he’d been arrested. The media, including, glossed over the line in the release asking to “remove him from any media publication he may be featured on.” (Editor’s note: Previous information about Brucks has since been removed.)

He doesn’t understand why the RCMP couldn’t find him. He was living with his girlfriend in Kelowna at the time. He knows police have information about him. They have his mugshot from a night spent in the Penticton drunk tank some years before. He said police had his father’s contact information from the same incident. He lives in the North Okanagan.

“They never contacted (dad), they never contacted me about it,” he said.

Brucks has no criminal record in B.C. and prosecutors had no prior criminal record at all to put before the court.

But the damage is already done.

Brucks said he told his girlfriend about the two girls and the Tinder date and didn’t hide anything from her. But when his name went public, she broke up with him, following pressure from her family.

“I was with the love of my life that I thought I was going to marry, and then this came up and she broke up with me the day it happened,” he said, again choked with tears.

At the time the news went public, he was getting over a back injury that had put him out of work but he had applied for a job as a driver. It required a background check and he didn’t get the job.

Recently, he lost another job delivering pizzas after his employer found out about the charges.

He moved so he could abide by his bail conditions which said he was not allowed anywhere where anyone under 16 years old might be.

There’s no denying that the then 24-year-old was very naive and inexperienced when he went on the Tinder date. At the trial, he told the court it was only the second time he’d ever had sex.

He testified that several days after the Tinder date he received a text from one of the girls saying he was going to prison.

He cried throughout his testimony, his voice quivering giving even the most basic details. At one point he had to compose himself when his sobbing became too intense.

At the trial, he described the night with the two girls as “terrifying.”

The court heard how he’d met them on the dating app Tinder. The two girls – whose names are under a court-ordered publication ban – had been drinking and after they met, walked the 20 minutes back to his home. When back at his place both girls kissed him.

While he admitted to having sex with both girls there is only one complainant in the case.

The judge said the girl who was not the complainant pressured the complainant into having sex with him. The complainant also testified that the then 24-year-old never pressured her to have sex.

He testified that he and the complainant were both nervous about what was going on.

“I was uncomfortable in starting initiating anything,” he testified.

The judge said he asked the complainant how old she was, and while her answers were vague, the answer suggested she was 17.

During the trial, through floods of tears he testified, “why would she lie?”

Judge Hewson found both the accused and the complainant gave honest evidence and found them both to be credible. However, he found the other girl’s evidence could not be relied upon.

“Mr. Brucks could have asked further questions. He could have taken further steps. However, in the circumstances that existed that night, I think that he took all the steps that were reasonable,“ Judge Hewson said. “He acted innocently, pursuant to a flawed perception of the fact of (the complainant's) age.”

The Judge noted that the case had been difficult for both the complainant and the accused and said that he hoped the stress and anxiety they both felt would fade in time.

“(I’m) relieved I still have a future,” Brucks said. “I didn’t think I did."

Vernon RCMP was not immediately available for comment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We left Riley Brucks’s name in this story only to protect his innocence knowing there are other stories on the Internet with his photo suggesting he is a sex offender. We’ll remove his name from this story when those stories are removed.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. 

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