Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Rosie DiManno

'You don't fight with the police…'

THE NEXT time I see Constable Mike Hoskin, I'm going to break his f------ legs.

Is that a threat?

Will the York Region police officer show up on my doorstep eight days from now, after the Christmas weekend has passed, of course, because he's such a nice guy and wouldn't want to cause unnecessary distress over the holiday?

And how many other cops will he have in tow this time? And will he tape our conversation on a microcassette recorder whirring silently, surreptitiously, inside his jacket pocket?

Perhaps — if I refuse to step outside my home — he will issue a stern warning, suggest he might come by my workplace instead and arrest me there, this by way of intimidation. Of course, he will need a warrant for that, and never before has Hoskin applied for an arrest warrant, despite 10 years on the job as an officer, just as he'd never before conducted an investigation beyond the requirements of his routine traffic cop duties.

And if my father happened to be visiting (an Italian man of a certain volatile nature; I'm sure a top-drawer legal team could find a few people who've witnessed his temper in the past) and stepped between myself and whichever officer should attempt to put his hand on my arm whilst making that arrest (a symbolic gesture, signifying control) — as my father would undoubtedly do, instinctively, never imagining this would be perceived as a hostile gesture, would somehow provoke a battle royale — would then my father be … shot dead?

And my hot-headed younger brother, had he witnessed all this — certainly he would come flying out of the house to help me, to help my dad — would he then too be shot and grievously wounded for failing to obey a halt order?

Maybe, after all, it would be best if Hoskin were to come instead to The Star at One Yonge, fifth floor newsroom. Mine is the desk upon which sits a giant blow-up doll of The Scream, by Edvard Munch. Impossible to miss. So, come on Officer Mike. Come on down…

See, I know — from two decades as a reporter — as apparently the Romagnuolo family of Sunderland did not, that, in Hoskin's own words: "You don't fight with the police!"

Not under any circumstances. Not even when severely provoked or suckered into it. Which is not a description of what happened once upon a winter's night dreary, at an isolated house northeast of Toronto. Because, in fact, we will never know what truly transpired on Dec. 28, 1998, between members of the Romagnuolo family and three police officers. Their narratives, delivered over a five-week period in a Whitby courtroom, were so wildly in conflict. And the accused, the officers, they stuck to their guns — you should forgive the expression — at least insofar as they described their own circumstances. Each said they could not relate what was happening with their colleagues at the same time.

Given what boiled down to two general versions of events, however — that of the Romagnuolos (didn't start it) and that of the cops (reacted in self-defence) — the jury opted for the latter.

In the vernacular of the court, Constables Hoskin, Randy Martin and Al Robins walked.

I say they waltzed.

Alas, this comes as no surprise, except perhaps to the Romagnuolo family, who had never before been exposed to the predictable conventions of an Ontario courtroom, nor the undercurrent of jurisprudence in this province, whereby an accused police officer is in so many ways a palpable extension of that very stacked system.

These three officers, two from York Region, one from Durham, were acquitted on all charges by a jury yesterday afternoon, on what was their second day of deliberation, and following a most intriguing charge — a blueprint of the legal issues — by Mr. Justice Archie Campbell. Among other legal direction, Campbell told the jury that it was all or nothing for those two officers — Hoskin and Robins — who were facing more than one charge. He'd also told them that they were to ignore all the events that preceded what occurred within a 12-minute time frame on the night of Dec. 28, 1998 — an odd instruction, that, given that Campbell had never prevented any of the many lawyers involved in this matter from eliciting exhaustive evidence about everything that had happened in the previous eight days, starting with that early-morning incident in which Hoskin had pulled over 17-year-old Rocco Romagnuolo for investigation of a driving offence, followed by a phone call Hoskin had made an hour or so later, to the Romagnuolo house, where he asked to speak to Rocco's mother.

It was Enzo Romagnuolo who answered the phone and Enzo Romagnuolo who subsequently — when Hoskin, in full puffed-up intransigence, refused to divulge any information about Rocco's condition — threatened to break the cop's f------ legs.

Thus, eight days later, after another phone call, did Hoskin and his posse appear at Tony Romagnuolo's doorstep, out there in Sunderland, a visit that escalated wildly into confrontation, physical combat, alleged struggles for various firearms, and then lethal mayhem: eight gunshots fired by three officers.

Mr. Romagnuolo, a 44-year-old carpenter, was shot dead by Martin, whose nose was also — probably — grazed by a bullet. Rocco was seriously wounded by Robins. Hoskin took a pounding in the face from Enzo, enough to cause extensive bruising.

Juries don't convict cops. Not in Ontario, certainly not in Whitby. And definitely not after a trio of highly talented defence lawyers succeeded in painting the Romagnuolos — all of them, from the dead Tony to his widow, to their three sons, even their damn dog — as combustible boors with fiery tempers and an appalling lack of respect for police officers. And, oh yes, shameless liars to boot.

This, even though the only official suggestion of mendacity had been directed at Hoskin, during Enzo Romagnuolo's threatening a police officer trial, earlier this year. At that proceeding, Mr. Justice William Wolski acquitted Enzo, describing Hoskin's recollection of the alleged threat as "somewhat flawed."

Of course, all that had nothing to do with the charges the three police officers were facing. Justice Campbell said so.

And Enzo's acquittal on the threatening, that was irrelevant too, as well as information withheld from the jury.

Not important for this jury to know. Or maybe too important.

Further, none of those criminal charges against the police officers related in any way to Constable Hoskin's orchestration — however unintentional — of all the events that ensued.

This was a courtroom, not a hockey room.

There is no instigator penalty.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: December 20, 2000
Last modified: December 20, 2000
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