From the left, Thunder Bay Police Service officers William Wowchuck, Ron Popowich and Brad Bernst.
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The lawyer for three city police officers now facing misconduct charges argued the incident involving a 50-year-old-man was a mistake.
Lawyers at the misconduct hearing that has been taking place at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay gave their closing arguments Friday. The four-day hearing, which started Tuesday, looked at allegations of potential misconduct of three Thunder Bay Police Service officers.
Richard Burns accused the officers of targeting him on Sept. 7, 2011 in order to get retribution for a settlement he received following a human rights lawsuit against the city’s police force.
Det. William Wowchuck, Det.-Const. Ron Popowich and Det.-Const. Brad Bernst were each charged with a count of misconduct by unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority and one count of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act.
All three have pleaded not guilty.
The officer’s lawyer Seth Weinstein said the incident was a mistake but that didn’t mean it warranted the charge of misconduct.
“Officers are entitled to make mistakes,” Weinstein said.
“Mistakes happen. These weren’t cowboys arresting people for the sake of an arrest. This can only be described as a mistake.”
The three officers were conducting a surveillance of a believed drug dealer’s home at the time of the incident.
Weinstein argued that the officers had reliable information from a source and the vehicles visiting the house were consistent with their experience of drug dealings.
Burns drove the vehicle the officers pulled over at the Money Mart on Memorial Avenue. The officers let Burns go after they didn’t find any drugs on him.
One of the officers testified that he believed because they let Burns go he contacted the dealer they were watching, which led to an unsuccessful search two weeks later.
“The point of the surveillance wasn’t to pick out a car,” Weinstein said.
“They weren’t there to mess up the investigation. They were to ensure the drug dealer was still in action. If it was retribution, as (Burns) claims, (the officers) could have done something far worse than letting him go. They could have put drugs on him or arrest him on something. If this was retribution why not take him to the station and strip search him?”
Prosecutor Bernd Richardt questioned the officer’s use of the term reasonable grounds in order for police to make an arrest. He said none of the officers saw any drugs exchange hands and were assuming that something illegal was happening.
He also called into question why the officers didn’t use video cameras or audio equipment.
Burns, who represented himself, said this incident with these three officers was not an isolated event. He argued that he has had more than 60 runs in with city police since 2008.
He said he would like to have submitted the other incidents as evidence of a larger pattern of behaviour but the hearing officer would only look at the incident at the Money Mart.
He said he finds it suspicious that he was pulled over only a few months after he received the settlement.
“I am getting a fair hearing within an unfair process,” Burns said.
“When Ontario government suggested the Office of the Independent Police Review Director restore public confidence and provide civilian oversight, I think the process itself is very lawyer friendly but not a public friendly process. I don’t feel hearing officer Morris Elbers is biased … we have a process where we have police judging police; drug officers being judged by a drug officer.”
He said the real failure is on the OIPRD by not conducting a full review of the other incidents as a whole.
Regardless of what happens at the hearing, Burns added the decision will be appealed.
Elbers is expected to give a decision on Sept. 12.
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