December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
A memorial sits at the intersection of Lagimodiere Boulevard and the Perimeter Highway, serving as a constant reminder of a horror that unfolded more than eight years ago.
Now, the family at the centre of the ongoing legal saga admits they've grown tired of fighting for justice after what may be the final chapter played out in a Winnipeg courtroom Friday.
"It's time to move on," a clearly frustrated Robert Taman said outside the downtown courthouse. "We're done."
Moments earlier, he watched Harry Bakema, the former chief of the East St. Paul police, walk free of any criminal wrongdoing for his role in the botched investigation surrounding the death of Taman's wife, Crystal.
It was a decision Taman expected. But it didn't make it any easier to stomach.
"Let's just say justice takes two steps backwards today," said Taman. "I think when we all look at everything that took place over the last 81/2 years, it's pretty clear."
Bakema, 62, was found not guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice and criminal breach of trust.
Provincial court Judge Kelly Moar said there's no doubt Bakema made several terrible decisions that fateful day "which he will have to live with the rest of his life." But he ruled the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt Bakema intentionally sabotaged the case.
Crystal Taman, 40, a mother of three, was killed in 2005 after her car was rear-ended by an off-duty Winnipeg police officer, Derek Harvey-Zenk, while she waited at a red light.
Harvey-Zenk, now 39, was heading home from a night of drinking with fellow Winnipeg police 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 signs that Harvey-Zenk was impaired is one reason alcohol-related charges were dropped. That issue was the primary focus of a 2008 inquiry that led to Bakema's arrest and the disbanding of the East St. Paul police service. The inquiry concluded the crash investigation was "riddled with incompetence" and "conducted in bad faith."
At Bakema's trial last year, Crown attorney Ashley Finlayson argued Bakema deliberately overlooked compelling evidence that suggested Harvey-Zenk was drunk. The Crown lined up several former and current police officers to testify.
Winnipeg police patrol Sgt. Cecil Sveinson told court Bakema admitted to him at the crash scene Harvey-Zenk was "pissed." Sveinson, who was Taman's cousin, went to the scene to perform an aboriginal ceremony. He said Bakema added they had to get Harvey-Zenk "out of there right away."
Jason Woychuk, a former constable with the East. St. Paul service, told court he was ordered by Bakema to exclude details of Harvey-Zenk's suspected impairment in his notes. He said a paramedic had given him a heads-up that Harvey-Zenk might be drunk.
Corrine Scott, a retired superintendent of the Winnipeg Police Service, testified Bakema called her directly from the crash scene less than an hour after the deadly incident, to warn her about Harvey-Zenk's involvement and that he "was at a party and smelled of liquor."
Harvey-Zenk admitted he previously worked with Bakema in the same Winnipeg police station before Bakema left to pursue the top job in East St. Paul. But he said there was never any personal friendship between them. He claimed to have no memory of the tragedy or any dealings with Bakema.
Bakema never did testify in his own defence to refute any of the Crown evidence. But his lawyer, Hymie Weinstein, argued the officers who testified were either mistaken or misrepresenting the truth about what happened. At worst, Bakema was guilty of making unintentional errors, he said.
Taman's said Friday it's "ridiculous" it took Moar 18 months to come up with the verdict.
"Everyone should be embarrassed by that amount of time," he said. Now the family plans to focus on the future and hopes nobody else has to endure what they have.
"When it comes to matters like this, we've learned that what's clear to the general public is sometimes foggy to the people that make the decisions and create our laws."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 A6