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East St. Paul police disbanded

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The three-year legal ordeal following the death of Crystal Taman ended with vindication for her family and humiliation for the East St. Paul Police Department, which botched the investigation into the crash that killed her.

The release of the damning report Monday into the failings of the Manitoba justice system also jump-started action from the Doer government to act on Justice Roger Salhany's recommendations aimed at restoring public confidence.

"Everybody sees it my way," Robert Taman said. "The fight's over. There are a lot of changes that are going to be made in the name of Crystal."

Most of the changes were recommended by inquiry commissioner Salhany in his 141-page report. The most significant one the former Ontario judge recommended is that police misconduct now be investigated by an arm's-length special investigation unit -- police departments will no longer investigate themselves.

The creation of the special investigation unit will come formally next year when the Doer government introduces long-awaited changes to the Provincial Police Act.

The most controversial change in wake of the Taman inquiry report wasn't recommended by Salhany, but by Justice Minister Dave Chomiak: to disband the embattled East St. Paul Police Department in favour of a new RCMP detachment.

"That was a long and hard decision," Chomiak said. "At some point you have to make a decision for the 8,000-plus residents of East St. Paul. I didn't want East St. Paul residents to have second-class policing."

Chomiak's decision to shut down the 10-officer municipal force caught community leaders completely by surprise.

"There was no consultation," Coun. Mike Wasylin said. "There was no discussion with us. It's totally contrary to what the people of East St. Paul want."

Wasylin said the upshot of Chomiak's decision is the police response times will be longer as the RCMP already complain they're short-staffed and spread too thin in some parts of Manitoba.

"The RCMP also come at a significant price," Wasylin said. "It's going to be huge."

Salhany's report reviews the East St. Paul police investigation into the early Feb. 25, 2005 highway crash that killed mother of three Crystal Taman. She was stopped at a red light on Lagimodiere Boulevard and the Perimeter Highway when she was rear-ended by a large black pickup truck driven by off-duty Winnipeg police officer Derek Harvey-Zenk.

Harvey-Zenk had been up all night drinking with fellow officers and was on his way home when he apparently fell asleep.

In a controversial plea deal, he was convicted of dangerous driving causing death. Special prosecutor Marty Minuk stayed other charges of refusing a breathalyser, impaired driving causing death and criminal negligence causing death. It was later revealed those charges were dropped because East St. Paul police botched the investigation.

Harvey-Zenk was sentenced to two years less a day of house arrest to be served at his Brandon home. He is no longer a police officer.

The province called the inquiry -- it sat for 30 days this summer -- to examine, among other things, what went wrong in the Taman case and why evidence of Harvey-Zenk's drinking wasn't used against him.

Salhany said it's clear to him the East St. Paul police investigation was plagued by "abysmal" note-taking and a "misleading" investigation of Taman's death.

He recommended, and Chomiak agreed, that the architects of that investigation, former police chief Harry Bakema and former constable Ken Graham be re-investigated by RCMP for allegedly obstructing justice. A similar investigation about two years ago revealed incompetence, but no evidence to support criminal charges.

Salhany also criticized Minuk for his handling of the case and the quickness with which he threw aside evidence of Harvey-Zenk's possible impairment.

"Minuk's shifting assessment of the fortunes of the dangerous driving charge, in which he variously expressed confidence that he could prove the case, while at other times claiming the case was weak, is deeply troubling," Salhany said in his report. "He did not have command over his case. He was obviously unprepared."

Robert Taman said now that Salhany's recommendation's are in the works he and his family can begin to move on.

"Every recommendation brings more justice," he said. "I can go home now and watch CSI -- I don't have to fight."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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