2 police officers guilty of misconduct
Two of three Thunder Bay Police officers charged in an drug-related arrest of a man last fall have been found guilty of misconduct under the Police Services Act.
In a decision released Wednesday, Det.-Const. Brad Bernst and Det. William Wowchuk were found guilty of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority, while a third officer Det.-Const. Ron Popowich was found not guilty of the same charge.
A charge of discreditable conduct was dismissed against all three officers by adjudicator OPP Superintendent (retired) M.P. B. (Morris) Elbers.
A sentencing hearing outlining what penalties the two officers face under the Police Services Act will be held on Oct. 10.
The charges stem from an arrest last Sept. 7 outside of a Money Mart on Memorial Avenue. The officers, with the drug enforcement street team, were watching a suspected drug house on Oliver Road when they decided to arrest the driver of the first car they saw leave the home.
Richard Burns, 49, of Thunder Bay, was handcuffed, searched and detained for about 10 minutes. He was not charged with any offences.
He then complained to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) about the officers’ conduct, which led to the charges under the Police Services Act.
Charges under the Act are administrative, not criminal.
A four-day hearing for the officers wrapped up July 14.
In his ruling, Elbers stated that “the officers in this incident made a rushed decision.”
“I believe that the arrest was unnecessary considering the facts that the members had at the time of the arrest. It is my belief that a reasonable person standing in the shoes of these officers on Sept. 7, 2011 would arrive at the same conclusion I have.
“When an arrest is unnecessary and an individual’s right to freedom has been removed, however briefly, the matter is serious.
“The arrest of Richard Burns was unnecessary. His personal freedom was removed. He was assaulted and handcuffed. His injuries were minor, but unnecessary. He could not leave until he was released unconditionally by Det. Wowchuk and Det.-Const. Bernst.
“This is a significant action against him by the Thunder Bay Police Service.
“I also believe and find that the officers rushed their decision and in no way had anything close to reasonable and probable grounds to arrest Burns with the observations that were made on the 7th of September.
“The arrest for possession of a controlled substance was I believe a ‘wish and a prayer’ by the officers considering what they observed and what they clearly did not have.”
Elbers noted that Popowich was not present for the arrest or search of Burns.
When later asked for comment, Thunder Bay Police spokesman Chris Adams said that “the only comment I can make is that we have to respect the decision of the hearing officer. We cannot comment beyond that.”
Burns said in an email to The Chronicle-Journal that it’s not the first time he has been vindicated by a tribunal looking into police misconduct. He said he was the subject of another case that resulted in a Thunder Bay Police officer being found guilty of misconduct, and has documented 66 encounters with police himself, including two arrests.
He suggested that “breaches of citizens’ rights under the guise of legitimate police activity has become almost routine in Thunder Bay . . . .
“This nonsense should have stopped long ago, those in positions of authority were unwilling or perhaps even unable to gain control over a portion of the police force who believe they are beyond accountability,” Burn states in his email.