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Wronged ex-police officer still intent on helping others

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It's a first, as far as I can remember.

Late last month, a police officer thanked me for something I'd written about him. Mind you, it took nine months -- until he had retired -- before James Jewell felt free to express his gratitude in an email. But with the thank-you came a lot more that had nothing to do with gratitude and everything to do with anger and what he feels is some unfinished business at the Winnipeg Police Service.

The column Jewell was responding to appeared late last summer after labour arbitrator Arne Peltz's stinging rebuke of Winnipeg police management's decision to abruptly transfer Jewell out of the homicide unit. That happened after Jewell went over his superiors' heads and walked through Chief Keith McCaskill's "open door" to challenge a transfer policy that restricted the stay of a pair of his detectives to only two years working homicides. Peltz ruled that Jewell's subsequent transfer was punitive, tainted by bad faith, and effectively ended his career.

Over the phone this week, the now 52-year-old former detective recalled being with his wife Lori at Rushing River in northwestern Ontario late last August when he opened the Free Press and saw my column about the case.

"Where can cops turn if they can't trust each other?" the headline read.

Eventually he would get to the column's last line and a personal message that was meant to be as much from the public at large as it was from me.

"I'm sorry, James," I wrote. "You're not the one whose career should be over. After all, the guys who worked for you still trust you."

In his response, nine months later, Jewell would write this:

"Your article was published at a time when I was mourning the loss of my career and it truly touched me."

But as I was suggesting, Jewell's message went well beyond that. As the message would at his retirement party on May 3, when according to someone who was there, he spent more than an hour on a humour-laced, barb-strewn PowerPoint presentation that was both pointed and powerful. To Jewell's surprise, McCaskill was in the audience. But as much as Jewell gave the police chief credit for showing up, he didn't spare him the verbal lash. Or, for that matter, Insp. Rick Guyader and Staff Sgt. Michael Stephens, the two officers who were directly involved in his career-ending transfer.

What still bothers Jewell, and what he made a point of saying in his email to me, is that neither of them faced any internal discipline following the labour board decision.

"The message that was sent by the complete lack of consequences," Jewell wrote, "still reverberates in the minds of my former colleagues."

Later, Jewell would personalize that sentiment, saying he spent his career trying to get justice for others.

"And in the end, there was no justice for me."

Only an undisclosed financial settlement that, while undoubtedly significant, obviously still hasn't remedied what Jewell believes is the central problem.

An absence of trust and accountability within the police service.

To understand why James Jewell feels so strongly about justice, you first need to understand what he had to overcome to become a police officer.

That starts with his father.

And the abuse.

As a child, his father would tell young James that he was worthless, but in the kind of devastating language a kid never forgets, no matter how old he gets.

Eventually, young James would drop out of high school and do various jobs, including being a stable hand at Assiniboia Downs. Then one summer he chanced to meet George Phillips, the demanding but inspiring founder of the Legion Athletic Camp at the International Peace Gardens. It was Phillips, who has helped so many kids, who would help young James feel worthy. Worthy enough to complete high school and realize his dream of being a police officer.

Policing, I suspect, is a position where Jewell felt he could help others and bring a sense of order to the world that he hadn't known growing up with a violent father. All of which would make what happened at the end in his police family all the more hurtful.

It also explains why he fought back through the labour board process, and especially what he's just done.

James Jewell has written a book, an autobiography, but with a self-help component. He says it's meant to inspire people who grew up in violent or dysfunctional environments. In other words, kids who grew up being treated as if they were worthless.

It's called Surviving the B.S.

By the sounds of it, James Jewell is content with the present.

As for the recent past, he wouldn't change anything he did.

"Fighting for your people," he says, "is what 'real' leaders do."

 

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 A4

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