The POLICING file – Farewell & Good Luck?

Police, policing, police culture, police budgets get lots of media coverage. Criticism of police, policing, police culture and police budgets get lots of attention. Support for police, policing, police culture and the police budget is front and centre, too.

One deficit is news of the outcomes of the many legal actions in Canada against police. Oddly, we almost never see a suit go to open court; settlements are the usual resolution, and non-disclosure clauses are standard. Most often, we do not even know settlements have been reached. Intentional suppression? And get this, these are our tax dollars at play, and we’re not entitled to an accounting.

There are occasional disclosures of the millions paid over periods of years by our governments to satisfy these suits. But, it takes the persistence of journalists and their employers to source this information, and a willingness to risk the displeasure of powerful offices.

What is most striking is how little impact these legal actions have. Yes, it seems Toronto police officers must now be taking public relations courses, but to what end? And yes, we believe there are people in public service dedicated to supporting best practices. Nonetheless, police culture must be entrenched in the status quo and beyond any easy redemption.

We contest turnoverarocktoday’s simplistic labeling as anti-police, but with so many voices in the arena already, we also believe our resources are better directed elsewhere. Our prison industry is so heavily shrouded against the public eye as to invite suspicion of wide-spread malpractice, for instance. More attention is warranted there.

John Sewell’s Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, journalist/activist Desmond Cole and his supporters in this city, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association cover policing extensively. The African Canadian Legal Clinic continues to operate in spite of funding setbacks, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission has just called a public interest inquiry into racial profiling by Toronto Police. There are many others.

We’ll leave this work to them, but will keep watch, update files, and post a ‘policing’ comment when compelled. As with anything, anywhere, and at any time, the biggest impediment to change is the missing voices of the masses.

Let’s move on.

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Police Games III – Marci Ien

Marci Ien is a multiple award winning Canadian broadcast journalist, currently cohosting CTV’s daytime panel talk show, The Social. The Globe and Mail published her op-ed piece, “Driving while black – in Canada”, on February 26.

In it, she wrote of her third stop in eight months by police while driving. She had dropped her daughter off at her sister’s house for a sleepover on a quiet Sunday evening in mid-February. The streets were unusually empty, but as she pulled into the driveway of her home of the last 13 years, a police cruiser came up behind her with its lights flashing.

She was ordered back into her car when she tried to speak to the officer, and was ordered to close the car door again when she stepped out as he approached. Apparently, she had rolled through a stop sign at her daughter’s school a half kilometre away. The officer asked if she lived in her home even after seeing the address on her driver’s licence and then took her i.d, license, registration, and ownership back to the cruiser for a few moments. He returned to say she was getting off with a warning. Throughout the exchange, she described his tone as alarming. She asked to be ticketed, told the officer of her past experiences with the police and how she did not feel respected, served for protected. “He looked at me, bid me good night and walked away,” she wrote.

We sent her a letter of encouragement:-

February 28, 2018

Marci Ien, The Social,
CTV,
P.O. Box 9, Station ‘O’,
Toronto, ON M4A 2M9

Re: “Driving while black – in Canada”
        Globe and Mail, Monday, February 26, 2018

Dear Ms Ien:

Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to put this on paper. It’s important for people who have a voice to remind us of conditions that regrettably still exist in this country.

You’re not the first person with a high public profile to experience overt racism from our police officers. You’re not the first person with a high public profile to go public with what happened to you, and how it made you feel. But, none of that has seemed to impact for positive change. And, we have a black chief of police. Or, is this because we have a black chief of police?

I do understand your anxiety at the time; still, a public servant trespassed on your property without cause. It’s important to remember two things, at least from the perspective of a white senior citizen like me. First, police college 101 teaches recruits to “get on top”, “stay on top”, be in control. Ergo, be firm in response. You’re really the person in charge. Second, when that police officer got out bed that morning and dressed, your tax dollars paid for his underwear.

Finally, what’s the worst that can happen? Toronto pays for a South Pacific cruise for you and your family.

Keep the conversation going.

Charles H. Klassen

cc Mark Saunders, Chief of Police, Toronto Police Service

The police were quick to react to the article, rejecting her claims of racism. Two senior officers tweeted a justification for the stop, and, along with the chief, claimed the videotape of the incident did not provide the officer with enough light to distinguish the race of the driver. The head of the police union tweeted a reference to a 2005 interview in which Ms Ien showed a cavalier attitude toward the rules of the road.

One important and overriding question which Ms Ien asks is why she wasn’t stopped when the traffic violation occurred, rather than in her driveway a half kilometre later. The question is ignored, but we can be sure the officer in the cruiser was running her plate and knew who she was and where she lived by the time he pulled into her driveway. Why then his questioning?

Take note too that police have been dismissive of video footage in the past as irrelevant, incomplete and distorting the facts when it shows them in a bad light.

Toronto Police communications’ director Mark Pugash concluded his comments on this by saying, “Ms. Ien has made some very serious allegations and we would encourage her to file a complaint.”

We suggested that she had:-

March 12, 2018

Mark Pugash, Director, Corporate Communications,
Toronto Police Service,
40 College Street,
Toronto, ON M5G 2J3

Re: Marci Ien

Dear Director Pugash:

I’m sorry, but the TPS and the police association counter punches to Marci Ien’s op-ed, “Driving while black – in Canada” come across as floundering knee-jerk reactions to one of this country’s not-so-dark secrets.

As an example, what video footage does or does not show discounts how ambient light varies on vehicles moving through it, and what a naked eye might distinguish. What is most telling about this one February evening though is Ms Ien’s comment, “The stop signal at my daughter’s school is half a kilometre away; why wasn’t I pulled over there? Why did he follow me home? Why, after seeing the address on my driver’s licence did he still ask if I live at my home?”

As for Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack’s response, he’s worth every penny he earns. Like you, he often works diligently to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

File a complaint, you suggested to Ms. Ien. Why, she did, and to the most relevant of bodies….the court of public opinion.

Regretfully, Director Pugash, no sale.

Charles H. Klassen

cc Marci Ien, The Social
Mark Saunders, Chief, Toronto Police Service
Mario Di Tommaso, Staff Superintendent, TPS
Shawna Coxon, Deputy Chief, TPS
Michael McCormick, President, Toronto Police Association

Police Games II – Sammy Yatim

“Forcillo’s team cites ‘fresh evidence’ in appeal.” Toronto Star, Feb. 18. Of course!

Constable James Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder after shooting 18 year-old Sammy Yatim eight times on a Toronto streetcar on the evening of July 27, 2013. A ninth shot missed. This police killing wouldn’t have gone beyond a Special Investigations Unit examination and follow-up exoneration if it wasn’t for video taken by a passer-by.

See “A badge but no gun?” from May 22nd of 2016. Forcillo was not the first police officer on the scene. He wasn’t the third or the fourth. But, he began firing at this mentally distressed teenager carrying a small knife (one source reported it had a 3-inch blade) within seconds of arriving on the scene. Yatim was on the streetcar….the police were many feet away, and only Forcillo had his gun out at that point, and only Forcillo discharged his weapon.

The first three shots were fatal. Yatim fell to the streetcar floor. Forcillo then fired six more times six seconds later for “good measure”, as we put it 2016. One missed. A jury ruled the first three shots were justified (I kid you not!), but the others were overkill and thus the attempted murder conviction. Weird. Compounding the indignity, a dying Yatim was tasered by a second officer after he was down.

Forcillo had been on bail pending an appeal, but breached his conditions last year and is now in prison, awaiting the outcome of that appeal. A few weeks after bail was revoked, he was charged with perjury and attempting to obstruct justice.

So, what is this ‘fresh evidence’? Forcillo’s lawyers argue that research not heard at trial establishes that the officer was likely experiencing “perceptual distortions” when he fired the second volley, thinking Yatim was getting up after a shot through the heart moments earlier.

Even if one accepts that the first three shots were justified….after all, Sammy Yatim was as much a threat to an armed and armored Forcillo as is a cream pie thrown at a charging bull….his lawyers are still pushing the credibility envelope. But then, they’ll do this for as long as there’s a chance to justify this killing. After all, they have our money to work with.

There’s an eerie similarity here to the police shooting of Michael Eligon on February 3 in 2012, when the 29 year-old black father walked out of Toronto East General Hospital, where he was undergoing a 72-hour mental health assessment, wearing only a hospital gown and socks. He stole two pair of scissors from a local store and was wandering a neighbourhood street. Surrounded by police, one drew his revolver and fired three times. Two shots missed. The third killed the man. A resident’s video recorded the sounds of the gunfire, but not the scene. The police were cleared by the Special Investigations Unit.

What’s the biggest difference between Yatim and Eligon? A camera!

Police Games I – Dafonte Miller

Did the police try to cover-up malfeasance and maleficence?

Go back to “POLICING….still more….” from September 17 of last fall, and the second section lead, “I CAN’T PICTURE THIS HAPPENING TO A GROUP OF WHITE KIDS”. 19-year-old Dafonte Miller was hospitalized with a broken nose, broken orbital bone, fractured wrist, and a badly damaged left eye that had to be removed, following a beating by an off-duty Toronto police officer and his brother, and which included 10 strikes with a metal pipe.

It was the early hours of December 28, 2016 on a street in Whitby, Ontario, and, oh yes, Dalfonte and the friends with him are black. This incident wasn’t reported to the Special Investigations Unit as is required, and the SIU didn’t begin to investigate until Miller’s lawyer Julian Falconer contacted them months later.

Justification? For either the beating, or the failure to report? There doesn’t seem to be, but be certain that Durham, Toronto and Waterloo police are working to make a supporting case on one hand, and to shift focus onto Dalfonte Miller on the other. (Toronto Police Service brought in the Waterloo police to look into this, and say its report will be made public.)

Toronto constable Michael Theriault and his younger brother, Christian, were each charged in 2017 with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon…..and public mischief, for misleading police investigators. Their father, John Theriault, is also a Toronto police officer who was with the force’s professional standards unit at the time, and is accused by Falconer of attempting to conceal his sons’ alleged crimes. According to Toronto Mayor John Tory in a Toronto Star February 21 story, the senior Theriault is no longer in that position.

A preliminary hearing began on Tuesday, February 20 in an Oshawa courtroom. The court was scheduled to hear evidence through that week, and it’s all covered by a court-ordered publication ban. It’s scheduled to continue in May.

Michael Theriault with his lawyer made a first appearance before the Toronto police misconduct tribunal on Tuesday, February 27. The constable is charged under Ontario’s Police Services Act with misconduct “in that you did act in a disorderly manner….likely to bring discredit upon the reputation of the Toronto Police Service.” Further, after the alleged assault on Miller causing “serious injury”, Theriault provided the Durham police on the scene with “an account of the confrontation…..which was not accurate.”

After this initial appearance, the police tribunal proceedings have been put off until the criminal charges are resolved.

Played for pawns……

…..but sit back and enjoy the game. You’re paying for it.

There’s an internecine conflict going on in the Toronto Police Service, and it’s likely playing out in other law enforcement agencies in North America.

Toronto is spending just over a billion dollars a year for policing, and there are parties working to trend this upwards.

That’s a lot of money for a city with a prolonged revenue problem, and both Ontario and its municipalities are initiating programs to revision the financing and operation of police services.

The province’s Safer Ontario Act replaces the Police Services Act, and while police oversight is its primary focus, and not operations, officers and the police associations that speak for them are touchy about any attempts to impose outside influences on the force.

So now, along comes the Toronto police “transformational taskforce” plan, a modernization process, on top of the new legislation. It’s expected to save $100 million over three years, a part of that directed to a hiring freeze. Those are not words officers want to hear. But, why should a skilled, uniformed and highly paid civil servant guard a broken water main, for example, when civilian workers can free up police resources for duties better suited to their training?

Yes, there have been challenges with staffing levels, and the difficulties and stresses that change brings. This is, however, a work in progress, and police management is pressured to stay the course on the one hand, while dealing with internal discontent from front-line officers on the other.

This is a battle some police employees have taken to the media, warning of low morale and threats to public safety. The chief though denies the city is not getting the service it needs, while acknowledging the turmoil of reorganization. This is a contest with an implied competition for community support.

turnoverarocktoday is not considered police-friendly, although it’s police culture that’s more often the target. Law enforcement bodies are a regrettable social necessity, but if we need them, at least let’s ensure they are under the people’s thumb at all times.

“Charges withdrawn……

…….against 4 Toronto cops”

So read the Toronto Star headline over Wendy Gillis’ November 10, 2017 column.

“A high-profile case involving four Toronto police officers accused of planting heroin on a car dashboard then falsifying court testimony has collapsed before going to trial, after the Crown withdrew the more than two dozen perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges.”

Last week we posted Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan’s September 2015 ruling that found four Toronto police officers had planted drugs in Nguyen Son Tran’s car back in January of 2014. Morgan threw out the seized drugs as evidence and stayed the charges against Tran.

After that decision and the publicity around it, the police’s professional standards unit investigated. That resulted in a total of 25 charges against the four officers, including 10 directed at 10-year veteran Benjamin Elliot. A downcast Toronto Chief Mark Saunders told a January, 2016 news conference that all four officers were suspended…with pay…and faced professional misconduct charges under the Police Services Act.

So, what happened?

In March of this year, that same Toronto Police professional standards unit advised the Crown Attorney prosecuting the case that privileged information had been inadvertently disclosed to the officers’ attorneys. A back-and-forth between the police and the Crown over how this might impact the viability of the court action meant the Crown had a duty to review and re-examine its “voluminous” case, and conduct a “painstaking and detailed reappraisal.” How this privileged information was characterized wasn’t mentioned.

In any case, the delay would postpone the trial until at least the fall of next year, exceeding the timeline limits established by the Supreme Court’s decision in R v. Jordan. The Crown felt it had no choice but to withdraw the charges, and that despite remedies available to sidestep the Supreme Court limits. As one Toronto criminal lawyer put it, “that the Crown attorney on such an important case would simply give up in the face of these issues is shocking and disheartening.”

At the same time, lawyers for the accused considered this a victory, and more, that the four officers were vindicated

What really happened though is that the Toronto Police Service sabotaged a criminal case against four of its own, based on an investigation it had conducted. One would think the forces professional standards unit would be professional standards experts, wouldn’t one? As Nguyen Son Tran’s lawyer said, the police “screwed up their own disclosure obligations? It just stinks.”

One other question appears never to have surfaced at any point, or with any observer. What did Tran do to warrant so much interest from Toronto police back in January of 2014?

PONDER THIS FOR A COUPLE OF WEEKS. WE’RE TAKING A CHRISTMAS/NEW YEAR’S BREAK……..BACK AGAIN ON JANUARY 7, 2018!

Now, here’s a twist….

…..first the ‘set-up’

The Toronto Star, Friday, September 11, 2015
Marco Chown Oved, staff reporter
“Judge rules police planted heroin in order to frame driver”

It’s the afternoon of January 13, 2014 in Toronto. Nguyen Son Tran is in his car, stopped at a red light. He has a criminal record, pleading guilty a year earlier to heroin possession, although he claimed at the time it belonged to someone else. As he sat waiting for the light to change, Tran noticed Toronto Police Detective Constable Benjamin Elliot in plain clothes pull up beside him in an unmarked car. It was Elliot who had arrested him the year before.

The light changes, and after driving through the intersection, Tran is pulled over by Constable Jeffrey Tout in a police cruiser, later testifying Tran ran a red light. Tout is on his cell phone as he approaches Tran’s car, and is overheard to say, “exactly him” as he comes within earshot. Tran steps out of his car. Elliot arrives on the scene in less than two minutes. Sergeant Michael Taylor and Detective Constable Fraser Douglas also show up. Elliot searches Tran’s car and shortly produces a bag of heroin, saying, “I found it.”

This is a part of the written findings of Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan when he tossed the seized drugs as evidence and stayed the drug charges against Tran in September of 2015. According to the police, they noticed a pile of loose heroin powder on Tran’s dashboard, which led to the search of the car. Eleven more grams of the drug was found wrapped in plastic and stowed behind the steering column.

But, police couldn’t explain how loose heroin got onto the dashboard; there was nothing to indicate how it got there. And why wouldn’t Tran have simply brushed it away when he was stopped. The judge’s conclusion? The heroin was planted.

According to Justice Morgan, the four officers all presented differing versions of what happened on that 2014 afternoon ….except they all did agree to the loose heroin on the dashboard. He ruled they “obviously colluded” in their testimony, describing their actions and false testimony in court “egregiously wrongful conduct.” He cited a number of points where he found police testimony to be patently untrue.

What consequences the officers would face, if any, did not come up at the time, although Toronto Police Service’s able spokesperson, Mark Pugash, did say judge’s comments are taken very seriously.

What’s going on here? Next week, we’ll skip forward two years and pick up the ‘play.’