A patrol sergeant with the Winnipeg Police Service has been busted down to the rank of constable after a judge found he threatened and used abusive language against the owner of the Green Brier Inn and the hotel's day manager.
Richard Comte, a 17-year veteran with the police service, also lost five days pay after provincial court Judge Sid Lerner, in a decision released Monday, found him guilty of committing three disciplinary defaults under the Law Enforcement Review Act (LERA) between Oct. 11 to 31, 2015. The act gives judges the authority to impose penalties on officers, even to the point of dismissal from the force.
The LERA hearing, which was held in 2017, was told the incident began while Comte was investigating a sexual assault allegation.
Veerinder Raien, the hotel's day manager, said Comte came to the Green Brier to try to get surveillance video recordings of the alleged victim and a suspect together at the hotel on Oct. 11.
She testified that officers come to the hotel "four to five times per week to obtain video footage" and she usually cooperates without police needing a search warrant or production order. The decision doesn't make it clear why this particular video recording wasn't immediately turned over.
But Raien said it was on Comte's third visit to the hotel that he threatened her by saying if he didn't get the footage officers might return during the hotel's busiest night to get it.
The hearing was told that 10 days after Comte first asked for the video, his superior directed him to get a court order, but before police could get it, the tape was overwritten.
The hearing also heard a telephone conversation secretly recorded by 24-year veteran Const. Andrew Tighe while talking to Comte. Tighe admitted during the hearing he is a friend of Green Brier owner Jonathan Singh and the hearing was told Comte knew that.
During the call, after Tighe told Comte that Singh might not even have received the message about him wanting the videotape, Comte told him "if (Singh) wants to play that same game with us, then realize that next time he's got a whole bunch of Manitoba Warriors a———s in his bar, he's not going to get any f——n play from us, and if he wants a bunch of guys breathing down his f——n neck, then keep going that production route.
"You know damn well what happens to establishments who are not police friendly, cause that's what I'm telling you, from officer to officer."
Although Lerner noted Comte up until now had a "spotless service record", the judge said it was those comments uttered by the officer which were the most serious and had to be penalized with a drop in rank because they "were a clear threat by Patrol Sgt. Comte that police service to Mr. Singh's establishment would be either delayed or downgraded as a result of what he perceived to be Mr. Singh's lack of cooperation."
"You know damn well what happens to establishments who are not police friendly, cause that's what I'm telling you, from officer to officer." - Richard Comte in a phone call to fellow police officer Andrew Tighe
Lerner, in a 14-page written decision, said Comte's actions "did not involve a momentary loss of composure, but rather a persistent pattern of conduct that has, understandably and predictably, caused Mr. (Jonathan) Singh high stress and severe anxiety, both of which continue to the present time."
The judge said that while Comte's motives during the investigation "were legitimate, and that he was focused on furthering a thorough and proper investigation of a serious matter, I have also borne in mind that how he went about doing so fell far, far short of legitimacy or propriety.
"Even after there was no investigation to further, Patrol Sgt. Comte continued to behave in a vindictive manner towards Mr. Singh and his business, and that he continued to do so, not once but twice, even after the LERA complaint was filed."
Robert Tapper, Singh's lawyer, said "my client is relieved.
"He has been very fearful throughout this whole process. This officer made it clear, through every effort he could, to paint my client as a police hater.
"These findings are very, very harsh... it was really unbecoming of a police officer."
A Winnipeg police spokesman said "the Winnipeg Police Service is aware of Judge Lerner’s decision.
"Since provisions under the Law Enforcement Review Act allow for the possibility of the respondent to appeal within 30 days of that decision, further comment will be withheld until the process is finalized."
Moe Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said at this point "it's a very difficult case to comment on. We're still reviewing the file and the decision."
Sabourin said the rank reduction will mean about a $10,000 per year drop in salary for the officer.
Neither Comte or Richard Wolson, the lawyer who acted for the officer, could be reached for comment.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at 9:23 AM CDT: Corrects attribution in pullquote.