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Stanley Park beatings

Park beatings by police get public airing
Evidence against fired constables will finally be tested

Duncan Gemmell

VANCOUVER - A public hearing into the dismissal of two Vancouver police officers for assaulting a trio of petty criminals in Stanley Park two years ago is the only way to discover the truth of what happened, said Dana Urban, counsel for the police complaint commissioner.

Urban told adjudicator Donald Clancy, as the hearing began on Monday, that the proceeding is unique.

Former constables Duncan Gemmell and Gabriel Kojima asked for a review of the decision made by Vancouver police chief Jamie Graham to fire them for their part in the affair. Gemmell and Kojima will argue they should be reinstated.

Four other officers involved received a variety of punishments, including demotions, after the six pleaded guilty to assaulting three men they took from Granville Mall to Stanley Park in a police wagon.

The officers were all members of Team Four which patrolled District One. It covers the West End and the crime-ridden Granville mall area, notorious for murders, assaults, drug dealing and theft.

The men, with long criminal records, were driven to a parking lot at Third Beach, removed one by one from the wagon and beaten.

Gemmell and Kojima were dismissed from the force a year later for discreditable conduct, with Gemmell also being charged with writing a false report about the incident.

Police Complaint Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld took into account public interest when ordering the hearing and "whether there was a reasonable prospect that a public hearing could assist in ascertaining the truth," said Urban.

He said the provincial court judge who sentenced the officers for assaulting the men, and the police chief, relied on admitted statements entered by Crown counsel and defence lawyers.

"The respondents [Gemmell and Kojima] admitted guilt ... yet in both proceedings no evidence was led, either oral evidence or exhibits. The decision-makers were not allowed, or required, to ascertain what happened in Stanley Park and Granville Street on Jan. 14, 2003, in order to determine the true facts.

"They were bound by the facts before them," said Urban.

Neither the judge nor the police chief could go "outside the box" to determine what really happened.

Urban said the commissioner was concerned that there was no evidence, presented in court or at the disciplinary hearing, that was tested by cross-examination. That procedure, Urban said, is accepted as the most reliable way to come to the truth.

"It's in the public interest that we now launch this evidentiary phase of the process in search of the truth as to what these two officers did," he said.

He told Clancy -- who is retired from the B.C. Supreme Court -- that it would be his duty to decide if each of the disciplinary faults before Graham were proven to a civil standard of proof.

Urban said he didn't think that issue would be troublesome.

"The real issue before you is ultimately whether or not the decision by the chief constable to dismiss these two officers was appropriate, based on the evidence you'll hear and tested by cross-examination," said Urban.

Another issue Clancy will have to grapple with, said Urban, is whether, in a democratic society such as Canada, it should matter that the persons against whom the police acted were "disreputable."

Urban said the police witnesses who will be called will give different versions of what went on that night.


Police avoid jail for B.C. beatings

Gabriel Kojima

Gabriel Kojima, leaves BC provincial Court in Vancouver after his sentencing for assulting suspected drug dealers.

VANCOUVER - Six Vancouver police officers have avoided jail time for assault even though a provincial judge said they all succumbed to "mob mentality" when they packed three suspected drug dealers into a patrol van and drove them to a secluded beach last winter for a beating.

At their sentencing hearing yesterday, the most severe punishments handed out were house-arrest terms for two officers. Two others received suspended sentences and another two were handed discharges for their role in last January's Stanley Park beatings of Jason Desjardins, Barry Lawrie and Grant Wilson.

The crimes came to light when Constable Troy Peters, a new recruit with only a few weeks on the force, reported the assaults. He was with the officers part of that night, but did not go to the park with them.

Provincial Court Judge Herb Weitzel described Constable Peters as the lone "bright light," who despite his lack of experience demonstrated that he understood the right thing to do "when police become themselves criminals by virtue of their behaviour."

During the hearing, Judge Weitzel rejected arguments that the officers acted in the "heat of the moment" when they drove the three men to the furthest reaches of the downtown park, then summoned each - one by one - from the van for a beating.

During the sentencing hearing, the court heard that the three victims have nearly 100 convictions among them. Police arrested them that night on suspicion of dealing drugs in downtown Vancouver.

But instead of taking them to the police station, the officers drove them to Stanley Park, roughed them up, then turned them loose.

Constable Duncan Gemmell, the senior officer, filed an occurrence report that said all three suspects were released at separate times and locations. He made no mention of physical contact.

A week later, Constable Peters, who is still with the Vancouver Police, reported what he knew of the events to his superiors. He has not spoken publicly about his action, but in a statement yesterday, deputy chief Bob Rich acknowledged the role of Constable Peters.

"The reason we are here today is because one of our own members stepped forward to bring this matter to light. Time and time again our members have been the ones who came forward when a member's conduct may be in question."

Police argued the beatings were the result of pent-up frustration at dealing with the same suspects time and again in downtown Vancouver. But Judge Weitzel disagreed. He said police are trained to deal with this kind of stress and concluded the beatings had all the trappings of a premeditated attack.

"They let their frustrations get the better of them. Rather than being a heat-of-the-moment situation, it became a situation of mob mentality."

All six officers pleaded guilty to the assault in a plea bargain last November in which the number of charges against them was reduced to 18 from 33.

However, the lawyer for the three beating victims, said some of the officers involved should have been sent to jail. Others, added Phil Rankin, should be fired.

"Frankly, if you want to stop the police from doing these kinds of things, it's probably better to put someone in jail, actual jail, and the other ones will learn from that," Mr. Rankin said after the hearings.

He said the beatings were more severe than the officers admitted. "There was a lot more violence, a lot more kicking, a lot more hitting with instruments. I have photographs of the injuries."

He also praised the recruit.

"I'm always impressed when any police officer breaks from the gang mentality and breaks with the code of silence.

"It's only the code of silence - whether it's crooks, gangsters, police or anybody - that makes these things happen. If they can't count on their brother officers to keep quiet when they abuse people, then they will stop doing it."

It's not clear how the sentences will affect each officer's career. All have said they want to keep their jobs. Their fates will be decided at a disciplinary hearing beginning Jan. 15. Vancouver police have said they won't comment on the case until after the hearing.

However, the president of the police union said there's no reason the officers should lose their jobs.

"There's no question they made a mistake and today the judge imposed a significant sentence," Tom Stamatakis said outside court. But he noted that they have apologized and sought treatment.

The officers showed no emotion during the hearing. Afterwards, they brushed past reporters outside the courthouse, refusing to comment.

Judge Weitzel said the sentences were based on each officer's degree of involvement.

Constable Gemmell, who was 39 at the time of the beating and the oldest of the group, got the toughest treatment, a 60-day conditional sentence during which he can't leave his house from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., plus six months of probation. The judge said Constable Gemmell "set the tone" for the beating. He poked Mr. Lawrie several times in the chest and punched him. "Given his age, he should have stopped the violence," the judge said.

Constable Gabriel Kojima, who hit one of the men with his baton, received a 30-day sentence, during which he can't leave his house at night, plus six months of parole. The judge called his behaviour "egregious."

Constable Raymond Gardner received a nine-month suspended sentence, plus six months of probation for berating one man and shoving two others. Constable Brandon Steele received a suspended sentence, plus six months of probation.

Constable Christopher Cronmiller, who pushed Mr. Wilson, received a conditional discharge and six months of probation.

Constable James Kenney, who stood by while the beatings took place, received an absolute discharge.

Crown attorney Robert Gourlay said he will study the sentences before deciding whether to appeal.


Arrested woman wants officers fired, watch on rest

VANCOUVER - The 29-year-old woman who was also in the police wagon on the night three men were taken to Stanley Park and assaulted by Vancouver police officers is calling for an aggressive campaign to keep the police in check.

Although Shannon Pritchard was not assaulted by the officers, who dropped her off in the West End before taking the males on to Stanley Park, she said the Jan. 14 incident traumatized her and left her fearful of police.

"They completely violated me. To this day, I am completely terrified," she said during an interview in which she described herself as a "pathetic honest junkie" who is trying to stay off crystal methamphetamine.

She said she wants the six officers fired and an independent group established that would watch police in an effort to prevent similar incidents occurring.

All the officers pleaded guilty to assault in provincial court last month, but Pritchard doubts they are truly remorseful. "I feel completely unsatisfied. What they did to me, they stripped me of all my power. I don't see them as the helpers down here. ... I truly want zero-tolerance for police brutality," she said. "They truly picked on the wrong person that night. I won't give up."

Pritchard said she still has no idea why she was arrested and bundled into the police wagon that night. (The statement of fact read in provincial court in November stated that Pritchard and the three victims were arrested because police suspected they were conducting a drug deal, which Pritchard vehemently denies.)

She is part of a civil lawsuit filed by lawyer Phil Rankin against the six officers, but says any potential financial settlement is secondary to her primary goal of seeing the six fired.

"[Rankin] has made it [the lawsuit] about the money. The guys [assault victims Barry Lawrie, Jason Desjardins and Grant Wilson] have made it about the money. I just want them fired. ... You'd think more would come of it because these [police officers] are really bad dudes."

A Vancouver Cop Watch program similar to those in operation in Toronto and Montreal was established in 2002 by the Pivot Legal Society and the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality. But Pivot executive director John Richardson admits the program (and Pivot itself) is severely cash-strapped and volunteers hit the streets to observe police at work only about twice a month.

"Cop Watch is not going to solve this. ... Nothing seems to be really working at this point," he said. "I think there has to be a better complaint process."

The complaint system now requires complainants to go to the police and fill out a form, or go to the office of the B.C. Police Complaint Commissioner and lodge a formal grievance. Considering "the people who are most often impacted by police misconduct are often the most marginalized," Richardson said there should be some kind of independent advocacy group established to help them through the system.

Richardson said he is aware of at least one instance when someone has filed a complaint with the commission only to have the officer named in the complaint learn of the filing and threaten the complainant.

"These officers are not afraid of it. There's nothing to stop that [officer and complainant interaction] in the system. It just assumes it doesn't happen -- but it does," he said.

Pritchard said Pivot should expand its focus on the Downtown Eastside and include the West End and Granville Street areas where she says problems with police are common.

"I'd love to," Richardson said, but again it is a question of money. "It's all about the resources for me."

In the meantime, Pritchard said she is engaging in a Cop Watch program of her own, jotting down notes and watching police behaviour downtown.

She's been in Vancouver since 2002 and collects cans to supplement her welfare cheque that mostly goes toward the rent of her tiny hotel room. Pritchard claims to suffer from acute stress disorder as a result of her experience with the police and says there are many people downtown who hate and fear the officers who are ostensibly there to protect them.

"We're sick of it and it's got to stop. ... I have to believe they're not all bad though, because it's pretty scary if they are."


Four Vancouver officers previously convicted of assault

Anne Drennan

VANCOUVER - Vancouver Police admit there are currently four officers on the force who have been convicted of assault - prior to the guilty pleas from six constables on Monday.

The issue came up on Tuesday when reporters asked why the six officers convicted on Monday were being kept on the force - on paid leave.

Vancouver Police spokesperson, Const. Anne Drennan, said a conviction for assault didn't automatically mean a police officer would be dismissed.

She added that Vancouver Police Department is no different than any other police force in that there were officers on duty who had been convicted of criminal offences.

But when she was asked how many current officers have convictions, Drennan called the question unreasonable and ended the daily news conference.

But Drennan was ready with the answer on Wednesday. "We believe that there are four officers that at one time or another have been convicted of common assault," she says.

Drennan says those officers went through exactly the same disciplinary process facing the six officers who pleaded guilty on Monday.

The six admitted they assaulted three men in Stanley Park last January. They have been suspended with pay ever since the assaults occurred, and will be sentenced next month.

They also face a civil lawsuit filed by the three beating victims earlier this year.


Convicted cops could keep their jobs

VANCOUVER - Vancouver Police say six officers who pleaded guilty on Monday to assaulting three people in Stanley Park last January will remain on paid leave until a disciplinary hearing is held.

VPD spokesperson, Const. Anne Drennan, says a criminal conviction by itself isn't enough to dismiss the officers.

"Just because an officer has been convicted of assault doesn't mean that officer has to lose his job," she says.

Drennan says the decision on the officer's futures is up to Police Chief Jamie Graham.

"There can be situations where the chief may look at all the facts presented to him and decide that under the circumstances, it's not necessary for the member to be dismissed," she says.

Drennan says because of the nature of the job, police often end up in fights with suspects which can result in officers being convicted .

"Vancouver's no different," she says. "We have officers on the job who have been convicted of assault."

But Drennan couldn't say how many officers on the Vancouver force have been convicted.

According to the department's basic recruiting requirements, police will not consider hiring anyone with a past criminal conviction.


6 Vancouver cops plead guilty to assault

VANCOUVER (CP) - Six city police officers admitted Monday that they assaulted three men in Stanley Park earlier this year.

The Vancouver officers unexpectedly pleaded guilty to three counts of assault in Vancouver provincial court.

But charges of obstruction of justice and assault with a weapon were dropped.

The officers sat stonefaced during the afternoon hearing and would not speak to reporters outside the court.

The decision to proceed with guilty pleas was made by Robert Gourlay, a senior counsel retained by the Crown to conduct a prosecution of the officers.

"They have admitted their wrongdoing," Gourlay told reporters outside the court, adding that sentencing would take place in December.

"Because it's now before the court, I can't comment any further," he said.

The six constables have been suspended with pay by the police department.

A lawyer representing the assault victims in a civil suit said he was disappointed with the development and disagreed with facts from the case read in court.

Lawyer Phil Rankin also questioned why the other charges were dropped.

"Not that my guys are good," said Rankin, referring to his clients. "They aren't.

"They say they all have problems," he said. "They all have drug problems. They are all people from skid row."

The officers picked up the three suspected drug dealers in downtown Vancouver early on the morning of January 14. The men were driven to a private spot in Stanley Park and beaten.

The officers charged were Christopher Cronmiller, Raymond Gardner, Duncan Gemmell, James Kenney, Gabriel Kojima and Brandon Steele.

A spokesperson for the police department said she couldn't comment on why the other charges were dropped.

"That's completely between Crown and the defence lawyers," said Const. Anne Drennan.

The officers will also face disciplinary hearings, headed by Chief Const. Jamie Graham, in January.

Drennan also wouldn't comment on whether the men could lose their jobs.

Graham will "hear all the information that's presented to him and then it's up to the chief as to what discipline would be meted out by the department," she said.

"We said at the beginning of this that if there was ever wrongdoing on the part of our members, we're the first ones to let people know that we don't tolerate that kind of behaviour," said Drennan.

"I think seeing the process underway like this is something very good for all of the members. It does give us some sense of closure."

The department has recently been plagued by allegations of corruption.

Earlier this year, two people sued police after they were beaten while trying to leave a riot outside a Guns 'N Roses concert that was cancelled.

The force has also been under fire for how it handled the case of more than 60 women missing from the city's Downtown Eastside over two decades.