Four Toronto police officers have been arrested on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury, and a full review of their past investigations is now underway, Chief Mark Saunders said Thursday.
The officers face a total of 17 charges in relation to a 2014 drug bust, where a judge ruled police planted drugs in a car in a case of “obvious collusion.”
Const. Jeffrey Tout, Det.-Const. Fraser Douglas, Det.-Const. Benjamin Elliott and Sgt. Michael Taylor are scheduled to appear in court on March 11. All are from downtown Toronto police divisions, and range in experience from nine to 17 years with the Toronto Police Service.
The officers were arrested at 7 a.m. Thursday and have since been released. All are suspended with pay.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday morning, Saunders said a team including members of the force’s professional standards unit and the Crown Attorney’s office has been formed to scrutinize other cases involving the officers “to see if there is any other cause of concern.”
Saunders does not know how many cases may now be in question. Some of the officers are “quite seasoned,” and may have worked on many cases over the years.
Police also confirmed Wednesday that charges against a Toronto police officer has also been laid under the Police Services Act in connection to another high-profile incident last fall, where a Toronto police officer fired multiple bullets into a stopped carin the Distillery District.
“It’s certainly has been an anomaly week when it comes to our service,” Saunders said. “We will do our best to get the public trust back that we have lost in certain ways.”
The charges against Tout, Douglas, Elliott and Taylor come after a Superior Court judge’s ruling last September that the officers planted heroin in a man’s car and then “obviously colluded” in their testimony in court.
Tout, Douglas, Elliott and Taylor all presented differing versions of what happened during a traffic stop in January 2014 when Nguyen Son Tran was pulled over for allegedly running a red light near Gerrard St. and Broadview Ave.
The officers said Tran had a pile of loose heroin powder on his dashboard, which led to a search of the car and the discovery of 11 more grams of heroin.
But police could not explain why Tran had loose heroin in the car, or why he didn’t wipe it away when he was pulled over, Justice Edward Morgan wrote in a ruling that threw out the drugs as evidence and stayed the drug charges against Tran.
“There is too much falsehood, and too many unexplained and otherwise unexplainable elements in the police testimony,” Morgan wrote. “I conclude from all this that the loose heroin was placed on the console of the Toyota by the police after their search, and was not left there by the defendant prior to the search.”
Tran’s lawyer, Kim Schofield, told the Star she is relieved that charges have been laid against the officers.
“Maybe I have a reinvigorated faith in the administration of justice,” she said.
Schofield had done almost exclusively drug cases for decades, and say that during that time she has seen officers lie, steal, cheat. “I’m impressed that it’s at this stage,” she said.
Asked Thursday how he reacted to Schofield’s allegations that lying by Toronto police officers was a systemic issue, Saunders said every lawyer is entitled to their opinion.
“Even if they’re not accurate,” he said.
Tout, 41, a 17-year veteran of the force, is charged with two counts of obstructing justice and two counts of perjury.
Elliott, 32, has nine years’ service with the force. He is charged with three counts of obstructing justice and three counts of perjury.
Douglas, 37, has been with the force for 14 years. He is charged with two counts of obstructing justice and two counts of perjury.
Taylor, 34, an 11-year veteran, is charged with two counts of obstructing justice and one count of perjury.
Taylor is described with the police rank of ‘constable’ in the news release, but according to Morgan’s written ruling, he was formerly a sergeant.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said he was “very troubled and deeply concerned” by the allegations, but stressed that they are unproven and the officers are entitled to the presumption of innocence.
“This goes to the heart of policing,” he said. “All of our officers take their jobs very seriously. They’re very professional. It does have an impact on the morale and our officers.”
McCormack said the officers’ arrest and subsequent release a short time later was “standard practice.”
“It’s very transparent and we do not get any special treatment,” he said. “We do that all the time.”
“This has been a very bad week for the members of the Toronto police service,” he added.
Mayor John Tory told reporters at City Hall Thursday that he has confidence in Saunders to handle the matter.
“In a big organization like this, are you going to have incidents that happen sometimes in bunches that are incidents that are troubling and concerning,” he said. “The real measure is how you handle these (issues).”
“I have confidence that the men and women still do a great job for us and that he (Saunders) is effectively leading us through these incidents that are difficult.”