From the left, Thunder Bay Police Service officers William Wowchuck, Ron Popowich and Brad Bernst.
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THUNDER BAY – Two of the three city police officers charged with misconduct have been found guilty under the Police Services Act.
Office of the Independent Review Director hearing officer Morris Elbers announced his decision in Thunder Bay Wednesday. Det. William Wowchuck and Det.-Const. Brad Bernst were each found guilty of a count of misconduct by unlawful or unnecessary authority, which stem from an arrest last September outside of a Money Mart on Memorial Avenue. Det.-Const. Ron Popowich was found not guilty as he arrived on the scene after the arrest.
The officers were also charged with a count each of discreditable conduct, but Elbers saw that as redundant based on it being the same as the first charge.
On Sept. 7, 2011 the officers, who are members of the drug enforcement street team, were watching a suspected drug house on Oliver Road. They decided to arrest the driver of the first car they saw leave the home, which turned out to be Richard Burns.
Burns would later file the complaint against the officers, which led to the misconduct charges.
The hearing officer heard that Burns was followed to Money Mart where the arrest was made by Bernst and Wowchuck. Burns was released a short time later.
In his decision, Elbers said that the officers never saw any people leaving or entering the home on Oliver Road. Based on testimony from six witnesses over the four-day hearing in July, he said it was clear the officers wouldn’t have been able to see where people from cars parked in the laneway near the home were going.
The decision by the officers to arrest someone took mere seconds after only watching near the home for an hour. Because of that, the hearing officer concluded that there were no reasonable grounds to arrest Burns.
Instead, it appeared to be a “wish and a prayer” by the officers.
“His personal freedom was removed,” Elbers said.
Thunder Bay Police Service deputy chief Andy Hay said he couldn’t say much about the decision.
“We have to respect his decision and there’s not much more we can say at this time. There’s still is the sentencing portion to be concluded,” Hay said. “It would be inappropriate to say anything else at this time.”
Burns was not at the hearing Wednesday.
The sentencing will take place Oct. 12.
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