THUNDER BAY – The city police board has been ordered to pay $1.6 million to a local auto parts company as a result of an investigation conducted more than 15 years ago.
Earlier this week the Superior Court of Justice Judge Helen Pierce ruled in favour of Central Auto Parts in a civil suit against the Thunder Bay Police Service, finding police conducted a negligent investigation against the company.
In April 1999 nearly a dozen police officers executed a search warrant at Central Auto Parts, believing it to be a chop shop. Owner and general manager Rick Mercuri was charged with 11 counts of stolen property as a result.
Within the next six years all the charges had either been withdrawn or Mercuri received an acquittal.
Even though the criminal proceedings had come to an end, Mercuri said he still felt victimized as a result of the publicity and said the reputation of his business took a substantial hit.
“Over the years with people calling and saying certain things it took a toll on us immensely. It was something I’ll never forget,” Mercuri said in a prepared statement read to TBT News. “It will be taken to the grave with me.”
Pierce concluded police courted local media as the case received widespread public attention, at least partially as a result of news conferences conducted by former chief Leo Toneguzzi and Staff Sgt. Keith Hobbs showing off the seized vehicles.
Mercuri believes the investigation was flawed from the beginning.
“We knew the conduct of the investigation to be negligent from the start. We conducted our business totally within industry practice and still do things exactly the same,” Mercuri said.
“The police officers were totally unfamiliar with the auto cycling industry which led officers to misinterpret crucial information.”
The ruling more than $1 million for loss of business income, close to $270,000 in legal fees and another $270,000 in other damages.
Thunder Bay police Chief J.P. Levesque is expected to comment on the verdict on Friday.
(Dennis Ward, Thunder Bay Television)