EAST ST. PAUL -- A former police officer spoke Thursday of how his career has been destroyed because of his association with the now-disbanded East. St. Paul police force.
Former officer Jason Soltys said even though he played no role in investigating a crash that killed 40-year-old Crystal Taman four years ago, his life has been ruined because he belonged to the police force that is now disgraced and disbanded.
The 36-year-old has abandoned hope of continuing in a career he loved. He said his applications to major police forces have failed and his family's life is in tatters.
"People don't understand exactly what happened here," he said in an interview.
"And they don't understand that a guy like me worked here, has a clean personnel record, did absolutely nothing wrong and my family and I are practically out in the street," said Soltys, whose three-year-old daughter accompanied him to an interview but was removed as her father started weeping.
Five months after hundreds of East St. Paul residents turned out at a community meeting about the province's decision to disband their local police service and replace it with an RCMP detachment, the wounds in East St. Paul over that decision still run deep.
Deeper yet, said East St. Paul chief administrative officer Jerome Mauws, is the belief good East St. Paul officers not connected to the scandal were tarnished in the fallout. Mauws said Soltys is one of them.
Soltys, a six-year veteran of the East St. Paul Police Service, worked with the service since 2002 until it was shut last December.
He said he continued working there until March 2009 as the Mounties transitioned into staffing the East St. Paul detachment, and hoped he could continue his job with police once he ended his post as East St. Paul Police Service's last officer. Last week, after he received a rejection from the Mounties specifying health concerns -- he said he's unsure what they refer to -- he said he abandoned hope.
Soltys said he is now looking for factory or janitorial work and his family may sell their home for income.
He said he's had no luck with the 18 jobs he said he's applied for, including to multiple police services.
"I was not working on the day of the Taman crash, but I am being punished," he said.
"I didn't ask for this, I didn't deserve this and now I'll never be a police officer again... no one ever thought of the good ones."
Mauws acknowledges the East St. Paul Police Service made mistakes when investigating the crash involving Winnipeg Police Service constable Derek Harvey-Zenk. He was returning from an all-night drinking party with fellow officers when he drove into the back of Taman's stopped car and killed her instantly.
An inquiry into the police investigation of the crash rapped both the East St. Paul Police Service and the Winnipeg Police Service. A judge said Harvey-Zenk received special treatment because he was a police officer. For instance, his fellow officers did not test him to see whether he had been drinking. Taman's family was outraged because Harvey-Zenk never served a day behind bars.
Mauws said eight officers, plus a chief and sergeant, were working for the municipality in February 2005 when the Taman crash occurred.
Four officers not connected to the inquiry or crash are the ones Mauws said suffered. "Those are the ones I really feel sorry for because they weren't involved at all. They were good officers, as far as I'm concerned," he said.
"Some of them have been hired, but not on a full-time basis, so they're all struggling now and it's really unfortunate."
Three former police officers are working for municipal police forces in Ste. Anne and Morden, and Mauws said some harbour hopes of joining the RCMP.
"In the meeting that the minister had with our public, it was implied they'd all be taken care of, they could apply to the RCMP and there'd be a transition into the RCMP. Well, it turns out nobody has made it, for various reasons.
Some of them didn't apply, and that's understandable, but of all the ones that did apply, they were all rejected for various reasons, which is unfortunate because they have been hired by other police departments," said Mauws.
RCMP D Division spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish said late Thursday afternoon she couldn't speak about specific applicants, but said the RCMP have strict hiring standards.