Friday, August 17, 2001

Jennifer Quinn
Police Issues Reporter

115 criminal cases scrapped in police probe

Toronto union angry that RCMP heading inquiry

A total of 115 court cases — investigated by 13 officers tainted by criminal charges — have now been thrown out, and more could end the same way as the RCMP-led probe into corruption on the Toronto force continues.

It's not clear how many accused people have walked free because of the 115 scuttled cases. Last year, the federal government had reported that 47 cases thrown out of court involved 81 accused.

"There was a range from not very serious charges to very serious charges," said David Littlefield, a senior lawyer with the Department of Justice. "Of course there's an impact on the system when we weren't able to proceed with those cases and it's an impact on the system any time a police officer is charged. It causes concerns over the integrity of the investigation and the police force."

Yesterday, The Star reported that Chief Julian Fantino has asked a senior RCMP officer, Chief Superintendent John Nealy, to head a task force of about 20 city police investigators who are probing allegations of perjury and theft. This new probe is an offshoot of an earlier investigation of allegations of theft from the force's so-called "fink fund," which is a reserve of cash used to pay off informants.

Also yesterday, the Toronto Police Association "denounced" Fantino for calling in the RCMP to head the probe, saying it shows he doesn't trust his own investigators.

"He makes it sound like there's a crime wave in the police service, and there's not," a clearly frustrated union chief Craig Bromell said from Quebec city, where he is attending the first general meeting of a new national organization of police associations. "What he did will cause damage to the service for years to come.

"I hope he's ashamed of himself because a whole lot of drug dealers are going to be walking the streets."

Bromell and the association "denounced" Fantino for calling in the Mounties, saying it's clear he doesn't trust his own people and that the chief's statements "jeopardized the officers' right to a fair hearing."

"We're very suspicious of the timing, we're very suspicious of the RCMP coming in, and we really want to get to the bottom of this," Bromell said.

So far, 13 officers — eight of whom are former members of the troubled central field command drug squad — are facing dozens of charges stemming from that probe.

Sources have told The Star that investigators believe police officers lied in order to catch drug suspects and, in some cases, pocketed the cash they seized from dealers.

One prominent Toronto defence lawyer says Fantino hasn't gone far enough.

Clayton Ruby, who has represented clients investigated by the officers charged, said the whole matter should be the subject of a public inquiry.

"This is not even another force being asked to investigate," Ruby said. "This is one police officer seconded to an investigation, and that's really inadequate.

"There's levels of things you can do. You can do what they've done — bring in one police officer to look at it, and how the hell is he to know what's going on, he's only one guy. Or you can give it all over to the RCMP. Start from scratch," he said.

"More appropriately, you can go to the government and say, `We need a public investigation.'

"And that's the best kind because it leaves all of us satisfied that any impropriety hasn't tainted the investigation as well. If you're going to do an independent investigation, then do an independent investigation. This is in-house."

Fantino has said he asked Nealy to come in to lead the Toronto investigators because he felt it needed to be clear there was no hidden agenda.

"We need to have some independent, outside-the-box thinking on some of these issues, an objective oversight," the chief told The Star earlier this week.

"It isn't any slight on our ability or the integrity of our people."

Ruby said the presence of an officer from an outside force supervising such an important investigation shows the chief doesn't trust his internal affairs investigators.

Five officers — Detective Rod Lawrence, Detective Constable Gary Corbett, constables Gordon Ramsay, Wayne Frye and Rick Franklin — were charged in April, 2000 with skimming money from the fink fund. Lawrence and Corbett were members of the force's elite repeat offender parole enforcement unit.

At the same time, court cases involving officers from the central field command drug squad were unravelling, as crown attorneys were staying charges with no explanation. Last November, Fantino announced that eight drug squad officers — Staff Sergeant John Schertzer, Detective Constable Steven Correia, and constables Sean McGuinness, James Leslie, Jonathan Reid, Raymond Pollard, Jaroslaw Cieslik and Joseph Miched — had been charged with theft, fraud and forgery in connection with the fink fund investigation.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: August 20, 2001
Last modified: August 26, 2001
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