Monthly Archives: October 2017

Saskatchewan RCMP Shoot and Kill 22-Year-Old Indigenous Man, Brydon Bryce Whitstone (Oct. 21, 2017)

Saskatchewan RCMP shot and killed 22-year-old Brydon Bryce Whitstone of Onion Lake Cree Nation around 9 PM on the evening of Saturday, October 21, 2017, in North Battleford.

RCMP have reported that they received a call from a man, saying he had been chased and shot at from a vehicle.  Police located the suspected vehicle and gave pursuit until they immobilized the vehicle. During their interaction with the driver shots were fired injuring a man inside the vehicle.  The victim, now identified as Brydon Bryce Whitstone, was pronounced dead at around 9:40 PM, while en route to hospital.

RCMP also report that a woman inside the vehicle suffered minor injuries. She was taken to hospital, but then released into police custody. Neither her condition nor the specific reason she was taken into custody have been reported publicly at this time. Neither has it been reported publicly how many shots were fired by RCMP officers. None of the police claims have been independently confirmed.

There is no independent investigative unit In Saskatchewan to examine cases of police harm to civilians in the province. RCMP Chief Superintendent Maureen Levy has reported that the Regina Police Service is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the killing of Whitstone by RCMP officers.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice will also appoint what it calls an independent observer to oversee the investigation, but such observers are almost always former police officers, so in no way independent. Justice Ministry spokesman Drew Wilby explained at a news conference that in cases were an independent observer is requested, the ministry appoints someone such as a former police officer. Yet, Wilby suggested, incredulously, that, “This individual will not be connected to the RCMP.” But it could well be a fellow officer so no claims of independence have any credibility.

Saskatchewan RCMP are a directly colonial military force. It remains a force of settler colonial military occupation of Indigenous lands and has an ongoing history of violence against Indigenous people and communities.


Letter From SIU Head to Ottawa Police Chief Raises Questions About Transparency and “Old Boy” Favors in Investigations

Two officers of the Ottawa Police Service were involved in a car chase that ended with the death of 24-year-old Alex Cross and an unnamed 39-year-old on April 12, 2016. Cross was killed when a Pontiac G6 plowed into his car on the city’s Vanier Parkway, throwing him and a 21-year-old woman from the vehicle. The woman was  seriously injured. The driver of the G6 died in hospital eight months after the crash. The two officers had chased the G6. They have never been named publicly.

Now the Ottawa Citizen has gained access to a letter sent to Ottawa’s police chief, Charles Bordeleau, by the head of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines police harm to civilians, offering a stern rebuke of the two officers and raises significant questions about the training that police officers receive and the transparency of investigations into police.

 

The “Old Boys” Letter

The letter from SIU head Tony Loparco to Chief Bordeleau, states that the police chase “clearly” broke Ottawa Police Service policy and “likely also ran afoul” of the provincial regulations that govern police chases, specifically of Ontario Regulation 266/10 under the Police Services Act (Shaw 2017). Additionally, the letter points out that the two officers were “long overdue” for their driver training (Shaw 2017).

Notably the letter was dated April 21, 2017, which was about a month before the two officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Special Investigations Unit, the very unit that is raising these issues and reporting them, not publicly but only to the chief of the officers’ force. This raises deep concerns and questions about the transparency of the SIU, its insiders practices and friendly relationships with the forces it is supposed to be independently investigating, favoritism toward killer cops, and the lack of public accountability for police and for the SIU.

This letter was only obtained through the efforts of the Citizen and its filing of a freedom of information request. Loparco’s concerns about the force were not communicated publicly, only to police, and did not seem to inform the SIU assessment of the officers’ actions or the SIU’s decision to let them off, odd given the issues raised by the SIU’s own director in his letter.

 

The “Investigation”: Chasing Training

Four SIU investigators and two forensics investigators were assigned to the case. They interviewed nine civilian witnesses and five witness police officers. On May 17, 2017, thirteen months after the crash, the SIU absolved the two officers of even any suggestion of wrongdoing. Said the SIU news releases at the time: “There is no basis whatsoever to hold either of the two subject officers responsible for the terrible outcomes of the motor vehicle collision” (Shaw 2017).

Yet, this finding is in complete contradiction with Loparco’s own review and assessment of the officer’s actions in this case as communicated to Chief Bordeleau. Loparco’s letter states that, if not for a senior officer calling off the chase, the two officers could have been in criminal jeopardy and this was a “pursuit that never should have occurred” (Shaw 2017).

According to the Ottawa Police Service, its Suspect Apprehension Pursuit policy was developed in conjunction with provincial guidelines that all Ontario police services must follow (Laucius 2017). All officers involved in pursuits are required to have successfully completed a course in pursuit driver training which is approved by the Ontario Police College and they must complete refresher training every two years (Lauicius 2017). Yet the two officers in this case did not follow the policies. Said Loparco, in his letter: “It is my hope that as Chief of the Ottawa Police Service, you will revisit the training that these two subject officers have received” (quoted in Shaw 2017). Yet, really, what does it matter if police disregard policies leading to the deaths and injuries of multiple civilians if they face no negative consequences for their actions?

 

Questions

It is still not known why one officer made the decision to try to stop the Pontiac G6 around 1:15 AM that morning. All that has been said publicly is that it was for “licensing and regulatory” reasons (Shaw 2017). There was no criminal offence suspected. Yet Ottawa police policy only allows for chases in criminal cases, and a handful of other restrictive conditions (Shaw 2017). The officer who initiated the pursuit was not conducting a criminal investigation and already had the license plate number for the G6. Loparco noted that the Ottawa police list of requirements for engaging in a pursuit includes:  “an identified criminal offence; no other alternative for apprehension; a threat to public safety; the vehicles involved in the pursuit are marked and the police officers involved have successfully completed police college driver training and refresher every two years” (Lauicius 2017). The first officer even radioed for assistance leading another officer to join the chase. A road sergeant had to make two calls for the officers to end their pursuit.

In Loparco’s words, the road sergeant insulted the officers from charges but he does not say why since the officers did initiate and pursue a chase improperly. Said Loparco:

 

“I commend him for his commitment to public safety. I am also hopeful that the officers under his command appreciate that his directions insulated them from criminal jeopardy in these circumstances. Their imprudent actions could well have grounded dangerous driving or criminal negligence charges if they had persisted in a pursuit that should never have happened in the first place.” (quoted in Laucius 2017)

 

Here is the thing. The fact that the chase was initiated in “the absence of a criminal investigation,” as Loparco notes in his letter, means, by definition, that the two officers in pursuit broke both their own force’s rules, as well as possibly violating provincial police chase regulations as established in the Police Services Act.

Why did SIU head Loparco raise these serious issues privately with the chief of the force involved, but never publicly? Why did Loparco identify these serious violations yet absolve the officers in spite of his knowledge, beforehand, of these violations?

While the SIU director often sends a background letter to the chief of police in the jurisdiction where the incident occurred, outlining any concerns the director has about the case, after a case ends, this letter was sent beforehand.

 

Conclusion

Where there are questions about a police officer’s actions under terms of the Ontario Police Act, a police chief or a victim’s family member can request an investigation by the Office Of Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD). This office is responsible for receiving, managing, and overseeing public complaints about police in Ontario (Laucius 2017).

At present, there is no legislative mechanism for the SIU to notify OIPRD about concerns it has regarding  misconduct or neglect of duty involving police (Laucius 2017). In consultations with Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch, who led a recent review of police oversight in Ontario, it has been recommended that the SIU be made a “direct complainant” to OIPRD or the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (Laucius 2017).

This case offers some important insights into the nature of police “oversight” in the Canadian state context. It shows the secrecy of investigations into police and the lack of accountability in even obvious or basic situations of police violations of their own limited regulations. It also shows the friendly “old boys” networking that exists between investigative bodies and the police they are supposed to investigate. The state protects the state and informs its members instead of the public.

 

Further Reading

Dawson, Tyler. 2017. “Private Letter to Bordeleau Reveals Officers Lacked Training in Night of Horrific Crash.” Ottawa Citizen. October 19. http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/dawson-training-needed-on-police-pursuit-policies

Laucius, Joanne. 2017. “SIU Director Sent Scathing Letter to Ottawa Chief Over Downtown Chase.” Ottawa Sun. October 18. http://www.ottawasun.com/2017/10/18/siu-director-sent-scathing-letter-to-ottawa-chief-over-downtown-police-chase


SIU Lets Off Cop in 2016 Police Chase Death of Teen, Despite High Speed, Possible Breaches of Police Services Act

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, has decided not to recommend charges against a Leeds OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) officer who was involved in a high speed chase in May 2016 that ended in a crash near Smith Falls that killed a teenager in May 2016.

According to the SIU, the officer, who has not been named publicly, saw a vehicle, a Hyundai, allegedly speeding  on County Road 17 and turned around to follow it. With the police pursuit the vehicle turned down a dirt road into trees, killing the 18-year-old male driver. A 16-year-old girl who was a passenger in the front seat was not seriously injured. The SIU report suggests that the speeding car was going 100 km on a stretch of road with speed limits varying between 50 km/h or 80 km/h when the officer saw it, and around 170 km/h when it left the road.

SIU director Tony Loparco, who has rather consistently sided with police officers and forces in cases of harm to civilian since assuming his position, did raise concerns about the officer’s speed, reporting that  the OPP vehicle reached 165 km/h, and about the fact that the officer did not immediately notify the dispatcher of the pursuit. According to Loparco, each of these may have constituted a breach of the Ontario Police Services Act.

Yet Loparco decided that the officer’s actions did not meet the bar either for dangerous driving or criminal negligence. In his words: “There is no evidence that the [officer’s] driving created a danger to other users of the roadway or that at any time he interfered with other traffic; additionally the environmental conditions were good and the roads were dry.”

This is a curious statement given that the teen driver was driving at speeds less than the officer reached at the time the officer began pursuit. So if even the officer’s higher speed and the road conditions did not pose a threat to the public, why pursue a joy riding teen driving at lower speeds under the same conditions?

Loparco went further, suggesting that there was no causal connection between the officer’s pursuit and the crash. In his words: “I am unable to establish that there was a causal connection between [the officer’s] actions…and the single-vehicle collision that caused the…death.” Yet the stated evidence appears to suggest the teen both sped up and turned off the road in response to the officer’s pursuit and the closing speed of that pursuit.

The SIU assigned eight investigators to the case. Once again it appears the state has protected the state.


Alberta RCMP Kill Man Near Bashaw, Second Killing Within Hours (Oct. 19, 2017)

RCMP in Alberta shot and killed a man near Bashaw around 9:15 AM on the morning of October 19, 2017. It was the second person that RCMP in the province killed within hours, following the killing of someone Gleichen at around 4 AM earlier that morning. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) is investigating. It has been reported that RCMP approached what they claim they believed to be a stolen vehicle on Range Road 234 southwest of the town of Alix, which is east of Red Deer. At some point officers fired their weapons hitting the man in the vehicle. The victim was airlifted by Air Ambulance to the University of Alberta Hospital in critical condition with a gunshot wound and later died from those injuries. None of the police claims have been independently confirmed.


RCMP Kill Person During Traffic Stop in Gleichen, Alberta (Oct. 19, 2017)

An RCMP office shot and killed the occupant of a car during a traffic stop in Gleichen, Alberta, about 90 kilometers southeast of Calgary, in the early morning of October 19, 2017. Few details have been released publicly. Police report that two RCMP officers conducted a traffic stop at around 4 AM. During the stop they allegedly saw a firearm in the vehicle and while attempting to arrest the person an officer shot and  killed them. None of the police claims have been independently confirmed. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which examines cases of police harm to civilians, is investigating the killing.


Killer Cop Simon Beaulieu and the Policing Assumptions that Take Lives

Quebec City police officer Simon Beaulieu killed 48-year-old  Guy Blouin when he struck the cyclist with his police vehicle on Sept. 3, 2014. During Beaulieu’s ongoing trial for criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing death, Yves Brière, a crime scene reconstruction expert with the Sûreté du Québec (the provincial force), earlier testified that he estimated Beaulieu to be traveling in reverse at 44 km/h when the cruiser hit and drove over Blouin on his bicycle.

On October18, 2017, officer Beaulieu took the stand. His testimony was interesting in revealing several generally held police assumptions about people that contribute to the killing of civilians by police.

First, cops assume everyone is a criminal (except themselves). Beaulieu testified that he was on a routine patrol in the Saint-Roch neighborhood when he observed Guy Blouin cycling toward him. But Blouin was riding his bike on a one-way street in the wrong direction. So Beaulieu assumed something was up and maneuvered his police car to block the cyclist.

Second, cops assume that everyone respects their authority unquestioningly, so anyone who does not listen to an officer’s orders must be up to something or hiding something. So, when Blouin rode his bike around the car and appeared to ignore the police order to stop, Beaulieu immediately suspected the cyclist had been involved in criminal activity. Not that he did not hear the order or had no reason to be stooped by police. In Beaulieu’s own words: ”In my experience, someone who doesn’t stop has something to hide” (quoted in Page 2017). So Beaulieu backed the police car into and over Blouin.

Third, cops assume that victims will be grateful for help offered initially from the very officers who hurt them. Beaulieu heard Blouin scream in agony from being driven over and excited his police car and saw the stricken man on the ground with leg and shoulder injuries. According to Beaulieu, the victim was agitated and refusing help from the officers. Did they call for medical help right away?

Fourth, and incredibly, cops assume that telling someone they are under arrest will calm them down!?! In Beaulieu’s words: “He was not collaborating, so I tried telling him he was under arrest to get him to calm down,” (quoted in Page 2017).

Fifth, cops assume that traveling in an ambulance with someone they have injured only moments before will make the victim less agitated. In this case both officers went with Blouin to hospital because , in their view, he was visibly agitated. And why wouldn’t he be?

In this case, Blouin remained agitated as the officers accompanied him . He lost consciousness en route and died only 20 minutes after being driven over by officer Beaulieu.

It turns out that the bike Blouin was riding at the time, which Beaulieu assumed was stolen because the rider was going the wrong way on a one way street and did not stop when an officer ordered him to, had been purchased by Guy Blouin at a local pawn shop. Police assumptions kill. An do so with frequency in the Canadian state context.

 

Further Reading

Page, Julia. 2017. “Quebec City Police Officer Accused of Running Over Cyclist Says Speed Wasn’t Over 25 km/h.” CBC News October 18. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/simon-beaulieu-testimony-guy-blouin-death-1.4360387

 


Killer Winnipeg Cop Justin Holz Could Face Additional Charges in Cody Severight Killing

On Friday, October 13, 2017, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth told the city’s civilian police board that additional charges could be coming against Constable Justin Holz  for allegedly driving while impaired and fleeing the scene after hitting and killing pedestrian Cody Severight on October 10, 2017.  Smyth told the board that the results of a breathalyzer have not yet been analyzed and could bring about the further criminal charge of driving with a blood alcohol concentration over .08, which is 80 milligrams of alcohol for every 100 milliliters of blood. Constable Holz has been charged with impaired driving causing death and failure to remain at the scene.

Smyth also told the police board that further disciplinary action could be taken against Constable Holz once the investigation is complete. This could come even before the case goes to court. Holz is presently on administrative leave with pay but Smyth acknowledged that future disciplinary action could include dismissal of the officer.

This is not the first time a Winnipeg police officer has hit and killed someone while driving after an evening of drinking. In 2005 officer Derek Harvey-Zenk killed Crystal Taman after driving home from an all night drinking party with other officers. Several charges were initially brought against Harvey-Zenk, including impaired driving causing death, but all except dangerous driving causing death were stayed in a highly controversial plea bargain. Harvey-Zenk was eventually sentenced to two years less a day to be served at home.

Upon hearing about Constable Holz killing Cody Severight while driving after drinking, Robert Taman, Crystal Taman’s husband, expressed sadness and dismay. Taman, who became an advocate for police reform after the killing of his wife, offered a stark assessment of prospects for change among police:

 

“But it never changes. So if it doesn’t change [that means] they don’t find it important enough to change, so it’s going to continue until the organization, the association, somebody steps up and says, ‘That’s enough.’” (quoted in CBC News 2017)

 

So no one should hold their breath awaiting additional charges or further disciplinary actions from police. Despite what the chief says.

The Independent Investigation Unit, which examines all cases of harm to civilians serious incidents involving police officers in Manitoba, is investigating the killing. Holz has been released from custody on a promise to appear in court on November 22, 2017.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2017. “’Nothing Hidden’: Truth Must be Revealed in Cody Severight Hit-and-Run Death, Crystal Taman’s Husban Says.” October 12. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/robert-taman-cody-severight-fatal-crash-1.4351359