CALGARY - A Calgary police officer has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the arrest of Juan Melendez by an independent police committee.
The 39-year-old man claims his arrest two years ago after a scuffle with police was racially motivated. But the officer involved, Const. James Grossklaus, was exonerated by an independent police committee at a hearing that ended Wednesday.
Two earlier hearings also dismissed charges against the police.
Melendez says the disciplinary process favours the police so he was disappointed, but not surprised at the result.
"My fight will continue and hopefully the truth will come out in an independent investigation."
The tribunal was made up of three officers from outside the Calgary police department.
The deputy police chief says he is pleased the charges were dismissed.
Hopes that charges would be dropped against an alleged police brutality victim were dashed in provincial court Monday with the setting of a trial date for the Chilean man.
Juan Melendez, 37, was arrested during a prostitution sting Aug. 17. He says police choked, punched and smashed his head into the sidewalk after they mistook him for a native man they were planning to arrest.
Melendez was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
On Monday, he pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial was set for June 15.
"I was coming here hoping for the best -- now I'm going home really disappointed," he said outside court.
"I don't need to go to trial. I'm innocent. I was beat up."
Don Wise, of the Latin American Community Association, said calls for the charges to be withdrawn obviously fell on deaf ears.
"We're bitterly disappointed that this criminal trial is going ahead against somebody we honestly and firmly believe is innocent and should not be facing trial," he said.
"What we've got here is a case where we pitted ourselves against the integrity of the police department, their image. We're rattling the big cage here. We lost this round."
Calgary police have finished an internal investigation of Melendez's complaints but the findings have not been released.
Still, Melendez said he doubts anything beneficial will come from the probe.
"I have no hope it's going to help me. They have already laid those charges and are going to trial."
The report is now with the Crown prosecutor's office, which will review it and recommend whether charges should be laid against the officers involved in the arrest.
The report, ordered by former police chief Christine Silverberg, will eventually go to newly named chief Jack Beaton, who will decide what step to take next.
Meanwhile, Melendez said the charges have ruined his job prospects.
Despite graduating in September from the electrical technology program at SAIT, Melendez said he's still unemployed.
"Now my life is going worse. With charges like that, which employer is going to give me a job when they said I assaulted a police officer?"
The Latin American Community Association was not an organization that took on a cause, but one that came to be because of one -- Juan Domingo Melendez.
September 12, 2000: LACA publicly launches a campaign in support of Juan Domingo Melendez through the media in an attempt to garner the attention of top police brass.
September 14, 2000: Juan Melendez makes his first court appearance. The Crown fails to turn over their disclosure papers so court date was moved to September 20, 2000. LACA holds a public meeting to discuss the Melendez case and similar cases at the Chilean Community Association of Calgary. Prior to the meeting, a civilian dressed police officer hand delivers a letter from Police Chief Christine Silverberg to LACA spokesmen Dagoberto Correa, Don Wise and Edecio Carrasco. The letter is an invitation to meet with Silverberg.
September 18, 2000: LACA accepts invitation to meet with Police Chief Silverberg.
September 19, 2000: Meeting with Chief Silverberg is confirmed for September 20 at 7:00 p.m..
September 20, 2000: A petition with 500 signatures is hand-delivered by LACA members to Police Chief Silverberg's office asking that the charges against Juan Melendez be dropped and justice be done. Later in the evening LACA representatives met with Chief Silverberg and Deputy Chiefs Rick Hanson and Peter Copple and Constable Neville Wells of the Cultural Resources Unit. Silverberg states that even though the police laid the charges against Melendez, they cannot drop the charges. She also stated that any intervention from the police to the Crown Prosecutors' Office is against the Criminal Code, however, that she would seek legal advice on how to pass on LACA's concerns to the Crown Prosecutor.
September 21, 2000: Juan Melendez makes his second appearance to court. His court date is moved to October 10, 2000 because once again the Crown did not hand over their disclosure papers. In the evening a letter from the Chief Silverberg is hand-delivered to LACA representative Dagoberto Correa -- prior to the association's press conference held at Las Americas Community Centre to echo our support for Melendez. The letter was to notify LACA that Chief Silverberg had found a legal way to fully disclose to the Crown Prosecutor the concerns of the validity of the charges against Juan Melendez expressed by LACA.
September 28, 2000: LACA representatives meet at the Chilean Canadian Community Association to discuss support needed for Juan Melendez.
September 30, 2000: A new petition begins to circulate to be sent to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Hon. Dave Hancock, to intervene and have the unjustified charges of resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer, by the Calgary Police Service, against Juan Domingo Melendez dropped.
October 6, 2000: A letter is sent to Police Chief Christine Silverberg (right) and Interim Chief Jack Beaton, and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Hancock and Premier Ralph Klein requesting that the court proceedings against Juan Melendez be withheld until they are absolutely certain that those charges have legal merit.
October 6, 2000: LACA receives a prompt reply from the Alberta Criminal Justice Division's Director Gary McCuaig who states: "My suggestion would be that Mr. Melendez, who must attend court, ask the court for a one month adjournment so that the internal investigation by the Calgary City Police can be received and reviewed by the Crown in Calgary. Until such time, there is no real way of determining how this whole matter will proceed".
October 7, 2000: LACA members present Alberta Premier Ralph Klein with a petition and letter of October 6, 2000 outside the QR77 Radio station.
October 9, 2000: Juan Melendez appears in court where his lawyer requests that the case be remanded until the police investigation is completed. His next court appearance is adjourned until November 15, 2000.
October 12, 2000: A letter is received from Chief of Police Jack Beaton stating that "any allegations regarding racism and police brutality on the part of members of the Calgary Police Service, indeed any allegations of misconduct whatsoever, are taken extremely seriously by me and will be fully and impartially investigated".
November 4, 2000: A fundraising dance is held to raise funds for Juan Melendez's legal defense.
November 6, 2000: The Alberta Human Rights And Citizenship Commission responds to Juan Melendez's complaint against the Calgary Police service by with a letter which reads: " . . . the Legal Counsel for the Calgary Police Service, Ms. C.A. Hass requested that you provide further details about the racist aspects of your complaint. This will enable them to better prepare a response to your complaint."
November 15, 2000: Juan Melendez's court appearance is stalled for the third time because the Crown Prosecutor did not have necessary information from the Calgary Police Service to proceed.
November 17, 2000: LACA receives a letter from Acting Chief Crown Prosecutor Harold Hagglund verifying that Juan Melendez's case has been adjourned to December 18, 2000. The letter reads: " . . . I am advised this adjournment is to allow the assigned Crown Prosecutor and the defense lawyer acting for Mr. Melendez the opportunity to discuss this matter further . . . . I also understand the assigned Crown Prosecutor is awaiting further information from the Calgary Police Service."
November 27, 2000: Juan Melendez sends a letter to CPS Chief of Police Jack Beaton authorizing LACA to receive a copy of the internal investigation report once it is completed.
December 18, 2000: Juan Melendez's lawyer Alan Hepner informs him that a trial date has been scheduled for June 15, 2001.
December 22, 2000: The Calgary Police Service sends Juan Melendez a letter stating that he must attend the Security Clearance Unit for fingerprint confirmation within thirty days.
December 22, 2000: LACA receives a letter from Chief Crown Prosecutor Elizabeth Hughes stating that her office received the Calgary police Service Internal Affairs Investigative Report on November 17, 2000. She states that the prosecutor from the Edmonton Prosecutor's Office who reviewed the report was of the opinion that there " . . . is no reasonable likelihood of conviction against any police officer in this case. therefore, no criminal charges are warranted." On this same day, the CPS sends a letter to Melendez to make an appointment to attend the security Clearance Unit for fingerprint confirmation because a record search disclosed the possibility of a criminal conviction(s), warrant(s), or charges(s). The appointment was made for January 27, 2001.
January 2, 2001: The CPS sends Juan Melendez a letter notifying him that the criminal portion of the investigation has been completed and that the internal portion is now underway.
January 5, 2001: LACA meets with other allies to discuss more support for Juan Melendez. This meeting was the founding meeting, with another to follow on January 20, 2001, towards what later would become the formation of the Justice Coalition.
January 24, 2001: A news conference is held at the site where Juan Melendez was beaten, to introduce the formation of the Justice Coalition.
January 27, 2001: Juan Melendez, accompanied by two LACA Board of Directors, shows up for his arranged fingerprinting confirmation appointment at the CPS Security Clearance Unit.
January 29, 2001: A letter is sent to Juan Melendez's by the CPS stating that a search based on his name and birthdate "failed to disclose any record of criminal convictions in the National Repository for Criminal Records in Canada. However, the following charges are pending before the courts: 1) Assault Peace Officer SEC 270(1)(A)CC and (2) Obstruct Peace Officer SEC 129(A)CC"
February 3, 2001: The Calgary & District Labour Council and LACA call the first meeting of the Justice Coalition. The meeting is attended by representatives of human rights, immigration and ethnic organizations, concerned citizens and other victims of police brutality. The Justice Coalition meets every first Saturday of each month thereafter.
February 20, 2001: LACA and the Calgary & District Labour Council receive a letter from Calgary Police Chief Jack Beaton regarding meeting with members of the Justice Coalition to discuss issues of mutual concern.
February 22, 2001: Juan Melendez receives confirmation from his lawyer Alain Hepner, Q.C. that his trial "Re: S.129(a), 270(1)C.C." has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on June 15, 2001, in the Calgary Provincial Court..
February 27, 2001: The Justice Coalition attends a meeting of the Police Commission to discuss and show their support towards the Juan Melendez case.
March 31, 2001: Juan Melendez attains the legal services of criminal and civil liberties lawyer Stephen Jenuth.
April 18, 2001: Juan Melendez receives a phone call from CPS Detective Coulas who informs him to come into the police station on April 24, 2001 to watch a video that was taken on the night of his arrest.
April 24, 2001: Juan Melendez, accompanied by his lawyer, watch a video taken by the video cameras at the CPS station. A copy of Jack Beaton's opinions on the internal portion of the investigation is handed over to Juan. The opinions on the report discredit what Juan Melendez deems as acts of inflicted pain inflicted against him by a member of the CPS as he is taken into the CPS station and into an elevator. Furthermore, it contains conflicting versions of whether there was verbal and/or racist abuse committed. And it also includes a statement from a witness for the CPS who coincidentally happens to be a tow truck driver and part-time auxillary officer for the RCMP.
June 5, 2001: The Justice Coalition again shows their support for Juan Melendez at another Police Commission meeting.
July 19, 2001: LACA is advised by Juan Melendez's counsel Stephen Jenuth to shut down their http://www.stormpages.com/laca website and discontinue all communications regarding Juan Melendez's case with the public and media or face possible defamation action to be pursued by the Calgary Police Service's legal counsel Bennett Jones .
September 10-14, 2001: The Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board holds a hearing into Juan Melendez' complaint against Calgary Police Service members.
October 11, 2001: The Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board makes a recommendation to the Calgary Chief of Police Jack Beaton to hold a hearing for one of the officers involved in the incident for illegal arrest and confinement of Juan Domingo Melendez Hernandez.
March 15, 2002: The Calgary Labour Congress Human Rights Committee, the Latin American Community Association and the Calgary Coalition for Social Justice stage a protest outside of the headquarters of the Calgary Police Service Office of the Police Chief to demand an end to police brutality and to call for an immediate date to be scheduled for a hearing against Constable James Grossklaus as recommended by the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board five months earlier.
A complete investigation into Canada's judicial system may be the outcome of an assault allegation levied against two city police officers by Calgarian Juan Melendez, if the group backing his case has its way.
Don Wise, a spokesperson for the Latin American Community Association, says the group is planning a strategy to look at the way police officers in Canada wield their powers, even though Crown prosecutors said last week they won't pursue criminal charges against the officers involved in the Melendez incident.
Melendez still faces two criminal charges stemming from the incident, that took place last Aug. 17.
Wise said the community association is developing a strategy they hope will enable an investigation into the way police officers in Canada utilize their power.
"I've said over and over again, what's really going on here is a perversion of justice. (Police) are trumping up charges to justify beating up people," Wise said.
"There's nothing out of the ordinary or unusual about this case. It's not only to visible minorities, but poor white people as well."
Melendez claims he was beaten up by two undercover Calgary police officers while he was walking near his Victoria Park home. He claims they showed no identification, so he fought back against the arrest, and was subsequently beaten up by the officers.
The officers were reportedly working on an investigation into prostitution in the area, targeting "johns."
Wise said the only charges Melendez faces relate to assaulting the officers and resisting arrest.
Late last month, the Crown prosecutor's office in Edmonton decided not to charge the officers involved in the incident, saying "there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction against any police officer in this case."
Wise said an investigation is needed into the way police officers in Canada use their power in light of the charges being dropped.
He said the judicial system is set up in a way that disempowers poor people and minorities from fighting criminal charges against them, especially when they relate to assaults against officers.
"We're up against eight or 10 crisply uniformed officers in court versus one minority immigrant ... We don't have any confidence. We want a review of the whole judicial system," Wise said.
"That may sound like a lofty goal, but we're working on a strategy."
Wise said the group plans on revealing its strategy in the next few weeks.
The officers still face an internal investigation into any potential police misconduct.
Melendez pleaded not guilty to the charges against him last month, and will appear in court again on June 15.