March 28, 2020

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Integrity of officers' conduct 'paramount': police chief addresses allegations against veteran cop

Police chief Danny Smyth was forced into the spotlight Wednesday after news broke that one of his officers was charged with three criminal offences this week — bringing the total numbers of charges the cop is facing to six.

Manitoba’s police watchdog charged Patrol Sgt. Sean Cassidy with fraud, obstruction of justice and unauthorized access to a police computer system Monday. Cassidy was already facing charges of assault causing bodily harm and two firearm offences.

The Winnipeg Police Service veteran, who has spent more than two decades on the force, is currently on paid administrative leave.

Two hours after the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba issued a press release announcing the charges, Smyth stood behind a podium at the WPS headquarters and said he was disappointed to again learn of alleged criminal activity by one of his own.

"The integrity of the conduct of police officers and the integrity of police systems must be paramount if the people we serve are to trust the police… I am concerned about the allegations regarding the conduct of Sgt. Cassidy," Smyth said.

According to the IIU investigation, Cassidy was driving his personal vehicle on-duty on Oct. 1, 2019 during a lunch break, when he was captured speeding by a photo radar camera. After returning to the office, Cassidy is accused of tampering with the WPS photo radar computer system in order to delete the evidence against him and avoid being ticketed. At the time, he was on desk duty in the photo radar unit pending the outcome of the three criminal charges previously laid against him.

After a difficult 2019 for the WPS — with police forced to confront a festering meth crisis, spikes in property crime, overwhelming calls for service and a record homicide total — Smyth did not appear thrilled to have to speak about alleged criminal activity in his own ranks Wednesday.

When asked how many times he’s had to hold such press conferences during his time as chief, Smyth said he wasn’t sure.

Officer named in two civil lawsuits

On top of the six criminal charges Winnipeg Police Service Patrol Sgt. Sean Cassidy is facing, the veteran cop has also been the subject of two civil lawsuits during his time on the force.

In January 2019, the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba — the provincial police watchdog — charged Cassidy with assault causing bodily harm in connection with a March 2017 arrest.

Kenneth James Cote was 32 years old in March 2017 when he alleges Cassidy—who was off-duty at the time — beat him in an unprovoked attack, leaving him with a fractured nose and a concussion.

On top of the six criminal charges Winnipeg Police Service Patrol Sgt. Sean Cassidy is facing, the veteran cop has also been the subject of two civil lawsuits during his time on the force.

In January 2019, the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba — the provincial police watchdog — charged Cassidy with assault causing bodily harm in connection with a March 2017 arrest.

Kenneth James Cote was 32 years old in March 2017 when he alleges Cassidy—who was off-duty at the time — beat him in an unprovoked attack, leaving him with a fractured nose and a concussion.

He filed a statement of claim in the Court of Queen’s Bench in March 2019 seeking unspecified damages. Cassidy does not appear to have filed a statement of defence.

Cote, who runs a landscaping and groundskeeping company, says he and an employee were distributing flyers in La Salle when Cassidy—driving an unmarked minivan — began following them while driving erratically.

Cote claims to have made repeated and unsuccessful efforts to approach the minivan and talk to the driver as they drove back to Winnipeg. Eventually, they noticed a WPS cruiser in a parking lot on St. Mary’s Road and pulled over to ask the officers for help.

The statement of claim alleges Cassidy pulled into the parking lot as well, exited the van and ordered Cote to remain in his vehicle. Soon after, Cote says he was placed under arrest by the on-duty officers and positioned face-down on the ground.

Cote claims Cassidy then began punching him in the face and repeatedly kneeing him, before the on-duty WPS officers pulled Cassidy away.

Cote was taken into custody but never charged. He claims Cassidy was allowed to leave the scene shortly after the alleged attack.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

In addition, Cassidy was one of several police officers — including former police chief Jack Ewatski — named in a 2006 lawsuit. It's unclear what the allegations against him were. According to court records, the lawsuit was discontinued in 2012.

— Ryan Thorpe

"A handful of times. It doesn’t happen weekly, but we have members subject to investigation every year… Over the course of our history, we’ve had people charged with some pretty serious things," Smyth said.

The chief was then asked if he thought this would be the last time he would stand behind that podium to discuss alleged criminal conduct by one of his police officers. His answer was a concise "no."

Previously in March 2017, Cassidy is alleged to have intervened on an arrest in progress while off-duty. He’s accused of repeatedly punching and kneeing the suspect, causing significant injuries.

No charges were laid against the suspect, who later filed a lawsuit — which is still before the court — claiming Cassidy illegally beat and detained him.

The IIU launched an investigation and formally charged Cassidy with assault causing bodily harm on Jan. 14, 2019. He was placed on administrative leave shortly after.

However, Cassidy was put back to work, being assigned to desk duty in the photo radar unit on Feb. 12, 2019. His duties in the unit allowed him access to the WPS computer system.

During the course of the investigation into the alleged assault, the IIU said it found a personal firearm improperly stored in Cassidy's work locker.

On Aug. 30, 2019, Cassidy was charged with unsafe storage of a firearm and possession a restricted weapon at an authorized place. Despite the additional charges, Cassidy was allowed to remain on desk duty in the photo radar unit.

“The integrity of the conduct of police officers and the integrity of police systems must be paramount if the people we serve are to trust the police… I am concerned about the allegations regarding the conduct of Sgt. Cassidy.” – Police chief Danny Smyth

Roughly one month later, one of Cassidy's colleagues noticed an "irregularity" in the computer system and reported their suspicions. The WPS later launched an internal audit of the unit going back six years and found no other suspicious activity.

"I’m satisfied the checks and balances within the photo radar system were able to detect an irregularity. I’m also satisfied that no other irregularities were discovered during a subsequent audit. This is a restricted system that very few people have access to," Smyth said.

"We did make some changes. At the time, a supervisor would have been oversight of the system. We’ve bumped that up. The supervisor still has oversight, but also now the division commander has oversight as well."

Only a small number of WPS officers have been charged by the IIU since the police watchdog went operational in 2015. A Free Press investigation in 2018 showed there’d long been pushback from police when the oversight agency attempted to probe alleged criminal activity by officers.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 at 1:11 PM CST: Video added.

6:23 PM: Full write through

7:06 PM: Removes photo

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