Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cop's obstruction trial stuck in limbo

Seven months since judge reserved verdict

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The wheels of justice appear to have screeched to a halt in the trial of a former East St. Paul police chief.

Seven months have passed since Crown and defence lawyers made their final arguments at the trial of Harry Bakema, who is accused of obstructing a high-profile investigation into a fatal car crash. Provincial court Judge Kelly Moar reserved his verdict in May, and gave no indication when his decision might be ready.

Bakema's case was back on the court docket earlier this month for another in a growing list of monthly remands. His lawyer, Hymie Weinstein, told the Free Press there's been no indication of when Bakema's fate will be decided.

"We knew it would probably take a while for his decision. There's a lot to consider," Weinstein said. Still, the delay is unusually long in a legal system not known for its speed.

Bakema has pleaded not guilty to perjury, obstruction of justice and breach of trust. Crown attorney Ashley Finlayson argued there is no doubt Bakema deliberately overlooked compelling evidence that suggested his former police colleague, Derek Harvey-Zenk, was drunk at the time of the deadly 2005 crash.

Crystal Taman, 40, a married mother of three, was killed after her car was rear-ended by Harvey-Zenk while she waited at a red light near Lagimodiere Boulevard and the Perimeter Highway. Harvey-Zenk, 38, was going home from a night of drinking with fellow officers. He pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of dangerous driving causing death and was given a conditional sentence.

The failure of East St. Paul police to properly document indications Harvey-Zenk was impaired is one reason alcohol-related charges were dropped. That issue was the primary focus of a 2008 public inquiry that led to Bakema's arrest and the collapse of the East St. Paul police service.

Robert Taman, Crystal's husband, said he doesn't understand why a judge would take this long to make a decision as the case has dragged on for months. He said the perjury trial is the last court case related to his wife's tragic accident and he would like to see it reach a conclusion.

"It's not going to have an impact on my life but it will bring closure to the whole ordeal," Taman said. "I don't think it should take this long."

Bakema's lawyer argued the Crown has failed to prove Bakema had any criminal intent. The lawyer suggested several former police officers who testified at the two-week trial were either mistaken or misrepresenting the truth about what happened. At worst, Bakema is guilty of making unintentional errors, he said.

"What was done was not done for any criminal intent," Weinstein said.

He also took issue with the testimony of several witnesses who painted an ugly picture of Bakema's role in the investigation.

Corrine Scott, a retired superintendent of the Winnipeg Police Service, told court Bakema called her from the crash scene, warning her an officer was involved.

"Harry was really focused on Derek Harvey-Zenk and not on the lady who lost her life. He was very concerned for Derek Harvey-Zenk's well-being," Scott testified. "Harry told me Derek had been drinking, he was at a party and smelled of liquor."

Winnipeg police patrol Sgt. Cecil Sveinson testified Bakema told him at the scene of the crash Harvey-Zenk was "pissed." Sveinson, who was Taman's cousin, went to the scene to perform a smoke ceremony for her. He said Bakema added they had to get Harvey-Zenk "out of there right away."

Jason Woychuk, a former East St. Paul police constable, told court a paramedic at the scene indicated Harvey-Zenk may have been intoxicated, but Bakema ordered him to keep those details out of his report.

-- with file from Jen Skerritt

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2012 0

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