Update: see previous post – April 24, 2015 Warrant Thrown Out Due to Police Misinforming Justice of the Peace
York Regional Police investigators believed Dennis Rawlings was carrying ketamine in his car, but they didn’t want to stop him on a drug offence for fear of disrupting an entire investigation.
So a detective asked a uniformed traffic officer to pull Rawlings over on a traffic issue, “to make up any excuse and try to obtain the consent of Mr. Rawlings to search his car,” according to a recent ruling from Superior Court Justice Bruce Glass.
In a blistering ruling that legal experts say will send a strong message to police about respecting rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Glass permanently halted the prosecution of Rawlings on the three charges he was facing — trafficking in cocaine, conspiracy to traffic in ketamine and possession for the purpose of trafficking in ketamine.
Calling the incident a “catastrophe,” Glass found that police had lied to Rawlings when he was first pulled over, arbitrarily stopped and detained him, and failed to advise him of his right to a lawyer.
“Courts cannot endorse deliberate police planning to bypass the protections of the Charter,” Glass wrote. “If the prosecution of cases flowing from abuse is stopped, there can be no doubt that there will be a change of how police services conduct themselves with persons.”
York police spokesman Const. Andy Pattenden, responding to the ruling, said “We respect the decision of the courts.” He said the officers involved in the case would not be commenting. Pattenden did not say whether they are facing disciplinary action.
“The judgment is a strong statement that courts will not stand by and watch the police flout the constitution in their dealings with people,” Daniel Santoro, one of Rawlings’ lawyers, told the Star.
All details included in this story are from Glass’ decision.
The traffic officer pulled Rawlings over on July 4, 2010, telling him “there had been a complaint about how someone was driving” — something Rawlings disputed, Glass wrote. Rawlings did agree to get out of the vehicle for a pat-down search, but refused to allow the officer to search his vehicle.
The officer, who said he was “concerned for officer safety” when he wanted to do the pat-down and search the car, never told Rawlings he had been stopped on a drug offence or that he had the right to retain a lawyer, Glass found. The judge also indicated there was “no foundation” for a concern of officer safety.
The incident concluded when the traffic officer again tried to search the car and Rawlings threw a bag that police believed contained the drugs to his wife on the sidewalk.
More officers then appeared on scene, with six of them ending up on top of him, according to Glass’ decision, who wrote that Rawlings sustained several broken ribs.
Even at that point, Rawlings, now 42, had not been told he was under arrest for any criminal offence, Glass wrote. Rawlings was initially charged with assaulting the six officers, but that charge was withdrawn.
The judge also took issue with the officers’ testimony about the altercation, writing that “Many times officers had a memory lapse by answering that they did not recall some events.”
“It was noticeable enough that I am reminded of an American Senate hearing many years ago with the late Jimmy Hoffa whereby Mr. Hoffa developed a very common answer that he did not recall and finally Robert Kennedy commented that Mr. Hoffa had the most extreme case of amnesia he could ever imagine (afflicting) a person,” Glass wrote.
The Crown “accepts that the actions of the police were improper,” but argued it would be “judicial over-reaction” to put a halt to the case, pointing out that real evidence was seized.
Glass disagreed, writing he found no justification for the police actions: “To endorse these breaches amounts to sweeping improper conduct of police officers under the carpet.”
It’s important that police services know that charges will continue to be stayed by courts if their officers breach the Charter, said lawyer Reid Rusonik, who was not involved in this case.
“Charges have to keep being stayed until they learn to respect the law they claim to want to uphold,” he said.