July 23, 2019

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Police kept watchdog in the dark about one of two officers accused of sex assaults this year

WFP Exclusive

The Winnipeg Police Service has kept the public in the dark about two separate sexual assault allegations made against its members this year, the Free Press has learned.

And while the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba — the provincial police watchdog — was quickly made aware of the allegation in one case, the WPS chose not to notify the agency in the other.

Two local police officers have faced accusations of sexual assault in 2019 — one of whom is currently the subject of an active criminal investigation. The information was uncovered by the Free Press after it obtained internal WPS documents through a freedom of information request.

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The Winnipeg Police Service has kept the public in the dark about two separate sexual assault allegations made against its members this year, the Free Press has learned.

And while the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba — the provincial police watchdog — was quickly made aware of the allegation in one case, the WPS chose not to notify the agency in the other.

Two local police officers have been accused of sexual assault in 2019, according to internal Winnipeg Police Service documents obtained by the Free Press.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Two local police officers have been accused of sexual assault in 2019, according to internal Winnipeg Police Service documents obtained by the Free Press.

Two local police officers have faced accusations of sexual assault in 2019 — one of whom is currently the subject of an active criminal investigation. The information was uncovered by the Free Press after it obtained internal WPS documents through a freedom of information request.

On the afternoon of Feb. 23, the police communications centre received a phone call from an individual "making a complaint that a WPS officer had sexually assaulted [redacted] in the past," according to an internal document.

The matter was handled by a WPS duty inspector who began working on the file to determine the correct course of action.

 

Email from duty inspector to

unknown recipient, Feb. 26, 2019

I was informed by SPCO [redacted] a [redacted] was on the phone with Communication Center making a complaint that a WPS officer had sexually assaulted [redacted] in the past. I instructed [redacted] to obtain the callers information and I would contact to determine the details and a course of action.

Source: Winnipeg Police Service

Email from duty inspector to unknown recipient, Feb. 26, 2019

I was informed by SPCO [redacted] a [redacted] was on the phone with Communication Center making a complaint that a WPS officer had sexually assaulted [redacted] in the past. I instructed [redacted] to obtain the callers information and I would contact to determine the details and a course of action.

Source: Winnipeg Police Service

Email from duty inspector to unknown recipient, Feb. 26, 2019

I was informed by SPCO [redacted] a [redacted] was on the phone with Communication Center making a complaint that a WPS officer had

sexually assaulted [redacted] in the past. I instructed [redacted] to obtain the callers information and I would contact to determine the details

and a course of action.

Source: Winnipeg Police Service

By 5:45 p.m. that day, the professional standards unit — the internal body that reports directly to WPS Chief Danny Smyth and, which was historically responsible for handling accusations against officers in-house — had gotten involved.

However, despite the existence of the complaint against the officer, the IIU has confirmed it received no notification from police in connection with the alleged sexual assault.

It remains unclear if the PSU launched a formal investigation into the allegation, and — if so — what the outcome was. It is not known if the accused officer faced any disciplinary action or if he remains employed with the WPS.

Three months later, on May 15, the WPS received another complaint. This time an officer was accused of sexually assaulting someone while off-duty. The IIU was notified and the accused officer was suspended with pay the following day.

The alleged victim did not sustain any injuries and was not hospitalized. An internal PSU report obtained by the Free Press indicates a fellow officer was identified as a possible witness and a video statement has been obtained by investigators.

 

Memo to Chief Danny Smyth from inspector, May 16, 2019

I contacted [redacted] via phone and verbally advised [redacted] that effective immediately [redacted] was being placed on

Administrative Leave. [redacted] has since been served a confirmation letter by members of PSU.

 

On Wednesday May 15th, 2019 I was notified by lnsp [redacted] via a briefing requesting an investigation into a Sexual Assault [redacted] on committed by [redacted].

Source: Winnipeg Police Service

Memo to Chief Danny Smyth from inspector, May 16, 2019

I contacted [redacted] via phone and verbally advised [redacted] that effective immediately [redacted] was being placed on

Administrative Leave. [redacted] has since been served a confirmation letter by members of PSU.

 

On Wednesday May 15th, 2019 I was notified by lnsp [redacted] via a briefing requesting an investigation into a Sexual Assault [redacted] on committed by [redacted].

Source: Winnipeg Police Service

Memo to Chief Danny Smyth from inspector, May 16, 2019

I contacted [redacted] via phone and verbally advised [redacted] that effective immediately [redacted] was being placed on Administrative Leave. [redacted] has since been served a confirmation letter by members of PSU.

 

On Wednesday May 15th, 2019 I was notified by lnsp [redacted] via a briefing requesting an investigation into a Sexual Assault [redacted] on committed by [redacted].

Source: Winnipeg Police Service

While the details of the alleged incident are redacted in the report, the Free Press has learned from law enforcement sources that earlier this year a WPS officer was accused of sexually assaulting the wife of a colleague during a "shifter" party.

The cop subculture of shift-ending drinking parties, often called "shifters," have been implicated in a number of high-profile criminal charges laid against Manitoba police officers over the years.

In 2005, off-duty Winnipeg Police Service officer Derek Harvey-Zenk, who had been at a shifter in East St. Paul, smashed into the back of a vehicle stopped at a red light at the intersection of the Perimeter Highway and Highway 59, killing Crystal Taman, the driver and lone occupant.

Former WPS officer Justin Holz is alleged to have been drunk when he left a shifter at a pub near police headquarters minutes before Cody Severight was struck and killed while crossing Main Street near Sutherland Avenue in 2017. Holz was arrested about seven kilometres away and is charged with impaired driving causing death and failing to remain at the scene.

Once notified of the May 15 accusation, IIU Civilian Director Zane Tessler chose to take a "monitor" role in the case. The ongoing investigation is being conducted by the PSU.

The Free Press sent written questions to an IIU spokeswoman asking if the agency is concerned police did not report the Feb. 23 sexual assault complaint.

"As you can appreciate, not every complaint or allegation against police results in a formal notification to the IIU. In many incidents, a preliminary investigation by the WPS determines there is no foundation to the complaint and therefore no statutory obligation to notify the IIU," the spokeswoman wrote.

"In the unit’s experience, when WPS is required to notify IIU pursuant to its obligations under the Police Services Act, WPS does so."

However, according to the Police Services Act, law enforcement is mandated to notify the IIU whenever they receive a formal complaint that an officer "has engaged in conduct that would constitute a contravention of a prescribed provision of the Criminal Code."

In such cases, the police chief "must, as soon as practicable, notify the Independent Investigation Unit... even if the police officer was not on duty at the time of the conduct in question," the legislation reads.

Police Chief Danny Smyth

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Police Chief Danny Smyth

A review of the legislation by the Free Press did not find any reference to police agencies being allowed to conduct preliminary investigations into accusations made against their members without notifying the IIU.

The WPS did not agree to an interview request for this story. Instead, a police spokesman sent a brief written statement to the Free Press, which did not address submitted written questions.

"When notified of incidents that meet the requirements of the Police Services Act, the WPS does notify the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba. As for questions related to investigations where the IIU is involved, we ask you contact them. We have no further comment to provide," reads the statement in full.

The Feb. 23 sexual assault allegation against a WPS member would not mark the first time the police service has chosen to handle matters internally that provincial legislation suggests fall under the purview of the IIU.

In November 2018, the Free Press published an eight-month investigation into the relationship between the WPS and the IIU, outlining a history of disappearing complaints, skirted investigations, institutional pushback, disputes over jurisdiction and interference among officers identified in criminal probes.

In that four-part series, the Free Press revealed that after the IIU was launched in 2015, the PSU continued to operate as if it didn’t exist. During much of its first year of operation, the PSU failed to notify the newly formed police watchdog of criminal accusations against WPS officers, effectively shielding them from independent oversight.

Then in April this year, the Free Press reported the IIU had taken the extraordinary step of filling an application in the Court of Queen’s Bench seeking to force the police service to hand over requested documents connected to a serious officer-involved incident.

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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