Allegations Cast At Fellow Officers; Lawsuits Hit At Wall Of Solidarity
Feb 10th, 2003, By Jim Rankin and John Duncanson, Toronto Star
Of all the extraordinary developments to shake the Toronto police service of late, perhaps the most unexpected is a deep crack that has appeared in the so-called blue wall of silence - the unwritten police code that demands no ill be spoken of fellow officers.
In the last couple of years, there has been a flurry of legal activity including:
- Suspected drug dealers suing Toronto police officers, alleging false arrest and theft of money. At least two such suits have quietly been settled.
- Drug squad officers suing their chief and other officials, alleging conspiracy and "spurious" internal investigations.
- Roughly 200 accused drug traffickers, investigated by officers under internal investigation, have walked free after charges against them were stayed.
The eight - all former members of Team 3 of the now disbanded central field command drug squad - went further, and made allegations against fellow rank-and-file officers.
And the eight, who allege they've been shunned at work, denied promotions and the target of a "crusade," made allegations against their drug squad colleagues without the blessing of the Toronto Police Association, police union sources say.
The break in solidarity is unprecedented in Toronto.
"They're off the reservation," one police union source says of the central drug squad eight, who will learn Thursday if the province will reactivate theft, fraud and forgery charges the crown stayed last February.
Very little has been said publicly about the RCMP-led probe into, among other things, allegations officers were stealing money from drug suspects.
Police information regarding the investigation, which resulted in the release of a man serving a prison sentence for heroin trafficking, has been sealed by the courts since July, 2001.
Simon Yeung sued police following his release, and late last year the civil case was settled out of court. But the sealing order has twice been extended by the Court of Appeal, and was to expire this morning. Lawyers for the province have filed a motion seeking the order be extended yet again.
Since late 1999, federal prosecutors, citing disclosure issues, have stayed or withdrawn charges in about 150 drug cases involving civilians where certain Toronto police officers were potential witnesses.
A number of accused, who walked free as a result, are suing the police, alleging, among other things, officers stole money, jewellery and other items. There have been undisclosed settlements in at least two of those cases. The fact that the central drug squad eight are also suing crown attorneys - prosecutors who work so closely with police - also has not gone unnoticed. Usually, differences between police and prosecutors are put aside so that both can get back to the job of putting away those guilty of committing crimes, said Patrick Jette, president of the recently formed Association of Justice Counsel.
"Usually there's always a happy ending. We're all part of the judicial system and we all have to work together," said Jette.
But police officers suing crowns because they disagree with the way in which they handled the charges is unheard of in this country, said Jette. His organization represents about 2,000 federal lawyers.
In their suit, the central drug squad eight - John Schertzer, Jonathan Reid, Steve Correia, Jaroslaw Cieslik, Joseph Miched, Raymond Pollard, Sean McGuinness and Gregory Forestall - name internal affairs investigators, fellow union members, as defendants. And, without naming names, the officers also allege fellow drug squad officers attached to another unit in the city were up to serious criminal activity, including using "ill-gotten" money to gamble.
The eight allege the other drug squad officers were addicted to drugs, and were offered a deal that allowed them to enter a rehabilitation program and avoid criminal proceedings. It is also alleged that an unspecified number of the officers under suspicion refused the rehab "deal," referred to in the officers' statement of claim as "the package," and as a result, were transferred to uniform duties.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
But at least three Toronto officers the RCMP asked to interview, as part of an ongoing corruption probe of Toronto police drug squads, entered drug rehabilitation programs, sources say.
The three officers entered rehabilitation programs around the same time an RCMP tactical unit, flown in from Ottawa, took down an officer attached to a Toronto police northwest field command drug team as part of the ongoing corruption investigation, the sources said.
The RCMP-led Professional Standards Task Force arrested Detective Constable Robert William Kelly on Nov. 16, 2001. Kelly, who joined the force in 1989, was charged with trafficking in a controlled substance, possession of a narcotic for the purpose of trafficking, and criminal breach of trust. His case is before the courts in Brampton.
As the lengthy investigation continues into corruption on the Toronto force, there have been no convictions. Criminal charges were laid against 13 officers in connection with the force's "fink fund." Charges against 11 were stayed and the remaining two were acquitted.
Police have long shunned those they consider loose canons, namely rogue officers, as well as officers who take indiscreet steps to draw attention to the rogue behaviour.
The implications, for the central drug squad eight, should any of them be charged again, remain unclear.
Normally, the police union bankrolls the defence for officers charged with crimes or police act offences. The eight were represented a year ago by top police union lawyers when a special prosecutor stayed dozens of theft, fraud and forgery charges against them. Forestall, who faced an additional charge of perjury, saw that charge stayed as well.
The crown has until Thursday to reactivate those charges or forever abandon them under the law. At the time the charges were stayed, police said proceeding with the charges against the eight might compromise an ongoing criminal investigation.
Some insiders saw the lawsuit by the eight as a "flanking" manoeuvre in what has become an ugly, public fight between those who want to fix what they see as a major problem and those who say there is no problem at all.
Whatever the outcome of the corruption probe, it won't be enough to restore public confidence in the justice system when dealing with drug offences, says Frank Addario, vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers Association.
"There's a whole bunch of people with a stake in the outcome ... the officers, the force itself, the police services board and the community," says Addario. "And there's no transparency right now."
Addario said his organization has been closely watching the drug squad scandal unfold, but the secrecy surrounding the police investigation has led to more speculation than fact.
"It's kind of a management style of the '50s," said Addario. "It's like knowledge is power and we have the power and we're not going to tell you."
The corruption probe, he said, appears to be moving forward with "no apparent speed to resolve it and with little or no information being shared" with defence attorneys.
The scandal has caused such damage to the force's reputation that, unless the force releases its findings publicly at the end of the investigation, the government might have to consider a public inquiry to clear the air, he said.