It is extremely rare in the Canadian state context for a police officer who kills a civilian to face charges. Even where charges are pursued in court killer cops are almost never found guilty by the system they uphold, protect, and service. The verdict in the case of York Regional Police officer Remo Romano who killed pedestrian Natasha Carla Abogado (18) on the evening of February 12, 2014 while speeding offers yet another sad case in point. On September 2, 2016 a jury declared Romano not guilty of dangerous driving causing death. Their decision came after seven hours of deliberations.
The Killing of Carla Abogado by Remo Romano
Detective-Constable Remo Romano (44) was driving an unmarked pickup truck at an incredible speed of 115 km/h, nearly double the 60 km/h speed limit, when he struck Abogado, killing her. The young victim was thrown approximately 80 meters and was declared dead on the scene in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Ontario. Notably, Constable Romano did not have his sirens or lights activated (Yuen 2016a). At the time he hit and killed Abogado, Romano was part of a surveillance team, Project Litterbox, investigating a series of non-violent commercial break-ins involving major Canadian capitalist enterprises such as Shopper’s Drug Mart, according to details provided to the jury (Hasham 2016). They were said to be stealing…perfume (Mandel 2016). Far from being a threat or crucial pursuit situation, Romano had simply fallen behind the other officers in his team and was speeding to catch up to them when he struck Abogado who had just gotten off a bus on her way home.
Crown prosecutor Perlmutter informed the jury that the surveillance operation Romano was involved in at the time he killed Abogado was only involved in intelligence gathering and was by no means dangerous nor urgent (Hasham 2016). Certainly it was not a matter of life and death urgency that he catch up with his team (or he might not have been so lax in falling behind in the first place). According to Perlmutter: “(He was) not entitled to drive at those speeds, to put himself in position where he did not have the time and space to respond to a jaywalker. This did not justify the risk to the public” (quoted in Hasham 2016). And we might stress again that this was an operation in which the police were providing essentially private security services for Canadian capital. Revealing once more that essential and unwavering connection.
The Crown’s collision reconstruction expert informed the court that a car going more than 80 km/h would likely have hit Abogado but at a slower speed, that car could have been able to stop or swerve to avoid impact instead. It was also noted that anyone jaywalking would have estimating oncoming vehicles traveling at the speed limit of 60 km/h (Hasham 2016).
Blaming the Victim
Romano cynically blamed the victim on the stand stating: “She made the choice to step out in front of my vehicle” (quoted in Yuen 2016a). An incredibly callous and self-serving assertion.
Defense lawyer Bill MacKenzie also blamed the victim for jaywalking rather than using a crosswalk. He cynically called the killing a “tragic accident” and went on to blame her clothing choice (quoted in Hasham 2016). Even more MacKenzie used the old ploy of tempting a jury to feel sorry for an officer who would be disgraced by being convicted. He further suggested that there is a disjuncture between the identity of officer and the identity of criminal as if the two are mutually exclusive. And he slyly suggested to the jury that they did not want to be responsible for effecting such an outcome for a supposed community servant. In his words: “At what speed does he go from being a police officer serving his community to a convicted criminal?” (quoted in Hasham 2016).
Constable Romano suffered panic attacks and was prescribed the anti-anxiety medication later found in his bag at the site of the crash (Mandel 2016). He claimed it was “just there for security” and insisted he had not taken any the night of the crash (Mandel 2016).
A Family Devastated
This decision comes in Romano’s second trial. At an earlier trial in May, a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict following two days of deliberations (Hasham 2016). Abogado’s family, who sat through both trials left the courtroom without common following the September verdict.
Carla Abogado’s father, Guillermo Abogado, expresses only disappointment with the verdict that has left the family further devastated. He worries for what the decision will men for other victims’ families as well. In his words:
“My whole family was very upset, we were expecting a guilty verdict. From Day 1 until now, it’s very hard for us. The jury are allowing the police officers to use 115 km/h on a busy street, near a hospital and subway station. I hope they have a conscience because it may happen again now. They’ve set a precedent. They’re allowing every police officer to do it again.” (quoted in Yuen 2016b).
The dissatisfaction with the court system is echoed by Paula Abogado, Carla’s sixteen-year- old younger sister. From her perspective: “With this, we were trying to find a little bit of closure, but now what are we going to get out of this? Every time there’s a trial we always get a reminder and it just brings us back to this place where we have no time to heal” (quoted in Yuen 2016b). Sadly this is the disappointing outcome experienced by almost all families of victims of police violence in Canada who expect justice through the court system.
Guillermo Abogado noted the difficulties and frustrations that families face when the killer of their loved one is a police officer. As he reflects, painfully: “We’re fighting a police officer, they have lots of support. I felt it was scripted. He faced the jury and was crying to get the sympathy of the jury. Maybe they felt it worked last time, so they’ll do it again” (quoted in Yuen 2016b). History in such cases in the Canadian context shows they do.
The Abogado family is also pursuing a $2.2 million civil suit against the York Regional Police.
The verdict while not shocking given the historic lack of accountability for police officers who kill civilians did seem to skirt all reason. As the Crown prosecutor Philip Perlmutter laid out, Romano ignored the obvious and foreseeable risks of driving at such speeds through a residential area with both a seniors’ center and bus stop en route (Hasham 2016). According to Perlmutter: “(Abogado) died on account of a fatal combination of Mr. Romano’s excessive speed and lack of attention” (quoted in Hasham 2016). In support of business interests. And once again a killer cop is let off the hook despite what logic dictates.
Hasham, Alysha. 2016. “York Cop Acquitted in 2014 Death of Jaywalker.” Toronto Star. September 21. https://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2016/09/21/york-cop-acquitted-in-2014-death-of-jaywalker.html
Mandel, Michele. 2016. “Just who is York Cop Crying for? Blames Jaywalker for Her Own Death.” Toronto Sun. September 15. http://www.torontosun.com/2016/09/15/just-who-is-york-cop-crying-for-blames-jaywalker-for-her-own-death
Yuen, Jenny. 2016a. “York Cop Acquitted in Jaywalker’s Death.” Toronto Sun. September 21. http://www.torontosun.com/2016/09/21/york-cop-acquitted-in-jaywalkers-death
Yuen, Jenny. 2016b. “York Cop’s Acquittal in Death Devastates Pedestrian’s Family.” Toronto Sun. September 22. http://www.torontosun.com/2016/09/22/york-cops-acquittal-in-death-devastates-pedestrians-family