Woman with intellectual disability enters not guilty plea in assault case

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The Canadian Press
HALIFAX - A woman with an intellectual disability who is accused of biting and striking a staff member at a care facility in Nova Scotia pleaded not guilty to assault charges on Monday.

Nichele Benn's lawyer entered the plea in Dartmouth provincial court to the charges of assault, assault with a weapon and breach of probation.

The 27-year-old woman's trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 31, with days also set aside on Nov. 6 and 7 for the hearing.

Outside court, Bible Hill's Brenda Hardiman said she doesn't believe her daughter should be before the justice system because of her organic brain disorder.

She said she continues to hope the charges will be dropped prior to trial.

"This is a health issue ... and not a criminal issue," she said.

"We don't hear of assault charges placed against people who have Alzheimer's (disease) and who have bouts of aggressive behaviour. Our situation is no different."

Halifax police allege the young woman bit and hit an employee with a foam letter and a shoe at the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Halifax on Dec. 12.

A police spokesman has said officers also have to consider the alleged victim when laying charges in cases like Benn's.

Defence lawyer Jane O'Neill declined to comment on what legal arguments can be made on behalf of her client, saying the public will have to wait until the trial to hear possible defences.

Benn is living in a separate part of the Quest facility but Hardiman said she expects her daughter to move to a smaller group home in a community setting within three months.

"We are pleased with the progress. We're cautiously optimistic and we'll see how it unfolds," she said.

Organizations: Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre

Geographic location: Dartmouth, Halifax

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