A man accused of sexual assault hugged his wife after learning his charges were dismissed Friday. Meanwhile, a group of teenage girls and their supporters left the courtroom in tears.
Soleiman Hajj Soleiman was arrested in February 2017 after several teenagers reported being touched by a man in the West Edmonton Mall water park. He was acquitted of all charges against him — six counts of sexual assault and six counts of sexual contact with a child — in a provincial court ruling Friday morning.
Justice Joyce Lester said that while something did happen at the mall’s wave pool, there was not enough reliable evidence to convict Soleiman.
The witnesses, who were ages 13 to 15 at the time of the event, gave varying descriptions of the man’s head and facial hair, skin colour and age during the trial. One said he wore blue goggles, while another said he wore rainbow goggles in a zebra pattern.
The girls also discussed what happened at the pool a number of times afterward, which Lester said could possibly shift and cross-contaminate their ideas of what happened.
When the trial began earlier this year, court heard testimony from some of the teen complainants.
Pool security footage wasn’t clear enough to identify whoever might have groped the girls, the judge said.
Lester believed a photo lineup should have been used in the investigation to identify the assailant, but this did not happen — a detective had said identification was not an issue.
“(The detective’s) statement of complacency has no place in a criminal investigation,” Lester said as she delivered her decision.
Court’s reasoning about evidence ‘regrettable,’ says Crown prosecutor
At least two of the girls in the courtroom cried and left with their mothers when the ruling was given.
Crown prosecutor Laurie Trahan said she understood the ruling, but was disappointed the girls’s discussions about what happened in the pool was ruled to be contaminated evidence.
“It’s regrettable that the logical, rational response to being sexually assaulted is not something that the court appreciates,” she said. “It’s not at all unusual for a woman or girl who gets sexually assaulted to talk to her friends.”
Trahan said it’s too early to determine whether she will appeal.
On the evening of Feb. 4, 2017, 16 girls from a soccer team were attending a birthday party at the pool, court heard. One of the complainants, then 14, testified she was in the wave pool when she heard other girls saying someone was touching them. She told court that as a wave hit, a man swam up under her and touched her breast and buttocks.
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The complainants, six girls age 13 to 15, accused Hajj Solomon of sexually touching them in the wave pool.
Court hears two full weeks of testimony beginning in January and heard from all six girls and 12 other witnesses.
Over 40 bikers showed up once again to support the six minor victims; Urban Bulldogs Against Kid Abuse and Guardians of the Children filled the courtroom, lined the walls, and spilled out of the courtroom into the hall.
The case came down to identification, with both sides conceding that an assault took place in the wave pool.
The judge cited the fact that Hajj Solomon is from a different cultural background from the six complainants as a reason to call into question their identification of him.
WATCH as I report on other statements by the judge, explaining her decision.