A York Region rookie hits his wife with an open hand so hard he ruptures her eardrum.
A Toronto police constable cheats on his sergeant exam on three separate occasions by having his girlfriend, who was also a police officer, radio him the answers.
An OPP constable drives a homeless aboriginal man several kilometres out of town and leaves him to walk back at dusk along a busy highway in near-freezing temperatures.
They’re all still cops.
In the last five years, nearly 350 officers from police services in the Greater Toronto Area — Toronto, Peel, York, Halton and Durham — and the OPP have been disciplined for what their own services call “serious” misconduct, a Star investigation has found.
Roughly one in five of those officers was disciplined because he or she had been found guilty of criminal offences, including assaulting his or her spouse, drunk driving, possessing drugs and theft.
Nearly 50 of the officers were disciplined more than once; some were nailed for new offences just months after being penalized for past misconduct. One officer was busted for being drunk behind the wheel twice in one week.
Someone with a criminal record would almost never be hired as a cop. But many cops who are convicted of criminal offences are allowed to keep working. Only seven police officers were successfully forced out of their jobs.
Police chiefs say the current law doesn’t give them enough power to get rid of problem officers. “Our hands are tied to attempt to deal with some of these individuals who don’t deserve to be police officers,” said OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes.
On an October 2011 evening in Red Lake, near the Manitoba border, with the temperature hovering around 0 C, OPP Const. Jim Manley found a homeless aboriginal man loitering at a local plaza. He drove the man, Stanley Fiddler, four kilometres out of town, wrote him a ticket and left him to walk home along a busy road at dusk. A car had to swerve to avoid hitting him. Manley joked to colleagues at the station that he’d dropped Fiddler 40 kilometres away.
“Manley’s misconduct had all the potential to cripple the public’s confidence and trust in the OPP,” the hearing officer said at his 2012 disciplinary hearing.
Manley’s lawyer told the hearing the officer knew the homeless shelter wasn’t open and so made the “ill-advised decision” to drop the man outside of town, calling it a mistake, not a racist act.
He was demoted to a lower pay grade for nine months.
Most police discipline cases don’t get reported beyond station walls.
In decision after decision, the officers presiding over the case — the judges — remark how media coverage of the officer’s misconduct would undermine public trust in the police.
“The media is the conduit to the public and ensures we hold accountable those who are found guilty of misconduct,” wrote one presiding superintendent in the 2014 case of a Halton constable disciplined for playing hooky from work. It was the officer’s eighth time being disciplined.
“Fortunately, in this case, there has been no media attention in this matter and consequently there has been very little damage done to the police service’s reputation.”
The Star first sought copies of disciplinary decisions from the GTA services and the OPP starting in late 2014. Many of the services took months to supply the records.
Each disciplinary decision gives a detailed account of the officer’s alleged misconduct and, if guilty, the penalty. As a whole, the decisions provide a look never seen before at a system insiders and critics say isn’t working.
The Star analyzed thousands of pages of decisions, finding patterns of misconduct across police services as well as disparities in how certain forces punish officers for the same type of offence. Those stories will be told in the coming days.
Peel Regional Police is the only service that still has not provided the Star with its full decisions. The force initially redacted names of the offending officers, and then released only Twitter-sized summaries of each case. The service’s chief, Jennifer Evans, said the force is reviewing its policies and full decisions should be released in the coming weeks.
DISREPUTE TO THE BADGE
York Region Police Const. Paul Oakey was at a platoon Christmas party in 2013 when he took issue with some “negative remarks” his wife made in front of other officers. Back at the hotel, he hit his wife in the head with an open hand, rupturing her right eardrum.
Oakey is one of 14 officers who have been disciplined in the last five years for domestic violence, a crime all services say is a priority to prevent and combat.
“Whenever a police officer is charged and brought before a criminal court of law, there is going to be damage to the reputation of the officer’s police service and policing in general. This case is no different,” the hearing officer said in a 2014 decision disciplining Oakey.
Oakey pleaded guilty to assault. He was granted a conditional discharge and given 12 months probation. He pled guilty again at the tribunal and was handed a nine-month demotion to a lower pay grade.
The Star also found instances of sexual harassment brought before the tribunal, including a staff sergeant who on one occasion told a female officer in uniform he would have preferred “to see her in high brown boots;” he later told her in front of her peers he’d like to spank her in private. The officer said his behaviour was inappropriate but wasn’t intended to offend.
He was docked 20 days pay.
A BROKEN SYSTEM
In nearly every police tribunal, the presiding officer emphasizes the purpose of the disciplinary hearings: to correct officers’ misbehaviour, deter others from committing similar misconduct and assure the public that bad officers will be held to account.
Yet police chiefs and prosecutors say they feel officers are at times treated too lightly. They say they are handcuffed by light penalties doled out previously for serious misconduct.
“There’s lots of times where (a supervisor) comes down here and says, ‘You’re going to ask for this guy’s job on this one’ and I’ll say, ‘Sorry boss,’ ” said Insp. Peter Callaghan, a prosecutor for Toronto police’s disciplinary tribunal.
Even when hearing officers do mete out harsher penalties, including dismissal, they complain that the appeal body — the Ontario Civilian Police Commission — will often soften the sentence.
The chiefs emphasize that the vast majority of officers do an upstanding job, and their reputations are unfairly tarnished by the misconduct of a small number of their colleagues.
“When you take an oath to serve and protect the community, you should be held to a higher standard,” said Evans, the Peel police chief. “It’s frustrating to think there are certain employees here that (shouldn’t be) because there is such great work that goes on on a daily basis.”
For cops facing discipline, there is just as much concern about senior officers judging their cases, said Peter Brauti, a lawyer who has represented many officers facing discipline. “The officers don’t like it because management picks the prosecutor and the judge — the fix is in.”
Brauti and Toronto police union head Mike McCormack argue that in many cases an officer has built up goodwill over years of service and that should be considered when a punishment is handed down. The purpose of the tribunal should be rehabilitative.
“There are all these people who have had one-off mistakes and they aren’t treated lightly. They shouldn’t be thrown to the curb because of one transgression,” Brauti said.
Some critics think the entire tribunal system needs to be overhauled to inject independent oversight. They say police officers can’t be held truly accountable in a system where senior officers judge cases largely investigated and prosecuted by fellow officers.
“Police do not have the capacity to scrutinize and try their own,” said lawyer Julian Falconer, who has acted for numerous clients suing the police for officer misconduct.
Falconer said the fact that no one trusts the system is an indication that it’s broken.
Toronto police Const. Usman Mirza popped in an earpiece and went into an exam to try to become a police sergeant. His girlfriend, a fellow constable, was nearby with the study booklet. When Mirza got stuck on a question, he radioed her and she would provide the answer. He passed the 2008 test but did not make it past the interview rounds.
So, with his girlfriend’s help, he cheated again on the 2010 promotional exam — and again in 2011. On his third attempt, the radio transmission was overheard by senior officers using the same frequency.
Mirza told internal investigators he suffers from extreme anxiety when taking tests, the result of being in a family of high achievers. His lawyer said the officer was genuinely sorry for cheating.
In 2014 he was demoted to a lower pay grade for three years.
The province is now revisiting the Police Services Act, the law that governs policing in Ontario, and it will likely be amended substantially for the first time since 1990.
Chiefs and police prosecutors say the act needs to be beefed up to empower them to get rid of problem officers. Some raised the possibility of setting penalty ranges for certain types of misconduct such as domestic violence or drunk driving, as well as greater transparency surrounding punishments. The process also needs to be streamlined so cases don’t drag on for years.
Ontario’s police chiefs have been asking for the discretion to suspend officers without pay when a force intends to seek his or her dismissal. The province’s services shell out millions of dollars a year to suspended officers, some of whom have been at home receiving paycheques since 2008.
The following are some of the cases brought before the tribunal in the last five years. The Star attempted to contact all officers named. Most declined to comment. The information comes from their disciplinary decisions.