Two officers were convicted of assault and forcible confinement for an off-duty altercation with a man who touched women’s breasts at a party.
Two Peel cops convicted of assaulting a man who touched female officers’ breasts at a police Christmas party have been demoted for discreditable conduct.
Sgt. Bernie Webber, a 26-year veteran officer, will be dropped to first-class constable for at least two years and will be barred from working in any supervisory role during that time, according to a June 28 Peel Regional Police tribunal decision.
Fellow officer Lance Kerec was also demoted — in his case from first class to third class constable — without the possibility of being fully reinstated for three years, Sgt. Josh Colley confirmed Monday.
There’s been no decision yet on disciplinary action for Const. Darren Barden, a third police officer involved in the incident, Colley said.
The demotions will result in “significantly” lower salaries for Webber and Kerec, Colley added, though he didn’t know by exactly how much.
Webber, Kerec and Barden were convicted last year of assault causing bodily harm and forcible confinement over the altercation, which occurred at a Christmas party in 2012, while the men were off-duty. Kenneth Duff, who was 62 at the time, was punched and dragged toward a public washroom and then “viciously kicked once in the face,” according to the April 2015 ruling from Justice Michael Epstein. Duff was left “bleeding profusely” with a broken nose, Epstein wrote.
Webber, Barden and Kerec were sentenced to 12 months’ probation with 100 hours of community service. Duff, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance by molestation, after his initial sexual assault charges were dropped.
Reached by the Star at his home in Guelph, Duff declined to discuss what happened at the party, but said his lawsuit is still in progress. Asked about the recent police tribunal hearings, Duff said, “I wasn’t aware of that situation at all.”
Paul O’Marra, Kerec’s lawyer, welcomed the ruling for his client and predicted he will have a “long and successful” career in policing.
“While off-duty, officer Kerec made an error in judgment,” O’Marra said in an email. “He acknowledged his mistake and expressed profound regret for bringing himself and the service into disrepute.”
Webber’s lawyer, Gary Clewley, did not return a request for comment Monday.
In the police tribunal decision to demote Webber, Supt. Colleen Fawcett noted that the prosecuting lawyer could not find any previous examples where officers were not fired after being convicted of assault causing bodily harm and forcible confinement. However, she ruled that the demotion was appropriate because of Webber’s “clear employment history” and “excellent work record.”
Sgt. Colley said the written ruling from Kerec’s tribunal hearing will be published online Tuesday.
The beating occurred at the Pearson Convention Centre, which hosted a Christmas party for Peel Police 22 Division on Nov. 30, 2012. According to a description of the event written in Webber’s tribunal decision, Duff was at the convention centre for a separate party that night.
At about 9:30 p.m., “after consuming alcohol,” Duff asked if he could have his picture taken with a group of women near a Christmas tree. After the photo was taken he touched the breasts of two women who were police officers, according to the decision.
Word spread through the police party about what had happened, and the three off-duty officers decided they would find Duff and “sort him out,” Epstein wrote in his April 2015 decision that is quoted at length in Fawcett’s ruling. The ruling states that Webber and Barden hatched the plan to confront Duff, and the three men set out to find him.
Webber was the first to restrain Duff, and was joined by Kerec and Barden, according to the ruling. Epstein found that Kerec punched Duff in the face as the officers dragged him toward a public washroom at the convention centre.
The justice wrote that Duff managed to hook his foot around the threshold of the door to prevent being dragged inside the washroom. Epstein ruled that it was at this point that Duff was kicked in the face by either Webber or Barden.
Epstein wrote, “the three defendants shared a common intention to seize and confine the complainant using unlawful physical force.”