August 18, 2018

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Two Winnipeg police officers charged with drunk driving avoid criminal records

Eight months after the city's police chief publicly voiced his frustration over a string of drunk driving charges within its ranks, two of five officers who faced criminal charges have had their day in court. Both avoided criminal records and gave the court reason to consider alcohol use among police officers.

Andrew Tighe, a 23-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police Service, was acquitted of impaired driving this week after a provincial court judge decided it was "possible" Tighe had been drinking alcohol before he was reportedly seen dumping beer out his driver's side window and blocking traffic in his stalled truck in the middle of an Elmwood street, but his impairment wasn't proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Michael Hawley, 50, an eight-year member of the police service, received a curative discharge after he pleaded guilty July 20. He admitted he was impaired when he crashed his truck into a fence in his back lane on Nov. 26, 2017, and was found slumped over behind the wheel with the keys still in the ignition, although the engine wasn't running.

A curative discharge is a way of disposing of impaired-driving charges for people who don’t have a record, have proven substance-abuse issues and are undergoing treatment.

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Eight months after the city's police chief publicly voiced his frustration over a string of drunk driving charges within its ranks, two of five officers who faced criminal charges have had their day in court. Both avoided criminal records and gave the court reason to consider alcohol use among police officers.

Andrew Tighe, a 23-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police Service, was acquitted of impaired driving this week after a provincial court judge decided it was "possible" Tighe had been drinking alcohol before he was reportedly seen dumping beer out his driver's side window and blocking traffic in his stalled truck in the middle of an Elmwood street, but his impairment wasn't proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Michael Hawley, 50, an eight-year member of the police service, received a curative discharge after he pleaded guilty July 20. He admitted he was impaired when he crashed his truck into a fence in his back lane on Nov. 26, 2017, and was found slumped over behind the wheel with the keys still in the ignition, although the engine wasn't running.

A curative discharge is a way of disposing of impaired-driving charges for people who don’t have a record, have proven substance-abuse issues and are undergoing treatment.

Five Winnipeg police officers were charged with impaired driving in 2017. (Winnipeg Free Press Files)</p>

Five Winnipeg police officers were charged with impaired driving in 2017. (Winnipeg Free Press Files)

More WPS officers were charged with impaired driving last year than at any time in the past decade.

Four of the five officers charged are still employed by the police service.

Const. Justin Holz, charged in the Oct. 10, 2017 hit-and-run that killed 23-year-old Cody Severight, has since left the police force.

Other officers charged with impaired driving in 2017

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Justin Holz was a 34-year-old, eight-year member of WPS when he was charged with several criminal offences including dangerous driving causing death, impaired driving causing death and failing to stop at the scene of an accident in connection to the fatal hit and run that killed 23-year-old Cody Severight.

He no longer works for the police service and is set to have his charges dealt with in court on Sept. 17.

Jason Garrett, a 28-year member of the WPS, was arrested by the RCMP and charged with impaired driving in February 2017.

He is set to appear in court on Sept. 13. He was reprimanded under the Liquor and Gaming Control Act in 2003 and previously had assault charges against him stayed in 2002 and again in 2013.

Leslie McRae, a 10-year member of the WPS, was arrested by RCMP on Nov. 20, 2017 and charged with refusing to provide a breath sample and having care and control of a motor vehicle while impaired.

He is set to appear in court Sept. 20.

Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Jay Murray would not say whether Holz quit or was fired, declining to comment on internal human resources matters.

No additional officers have been charged with impaired driving this year, Murray said.

There wasn't enough direct evidence to convict Tighe, provincial court Judge Robert Heinrichs decided Thursday, finding him not guilty of impaired driving but describing the case as "troubling." There was no evidence he had been driving badly and the officer who arrested him hadn't actually seen him driving, the judge said.

The Crown prosecutor stayed a charge of refusing to give a sample just before Tighe's trial began. Tighe wasn't offered a breathalyzer test.

"All of this is troubling that a veteran Winnipeg Police Service officer would be engaged in these activities. However, my task is to determine whether the Crown has proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, the totality of the evidence is such that it is possible that Andrew Tighe’s ability to have care and control of a vehicle was impaired by alcohol that morning. Possible, but I find that the Crown has not proven this beyond a reasonable doubt," Heinrichs said.

Around 10 a.m. on June 3, 2017, a Talbot Street resident called 911 to report that a man seemed to be sleeping in a pickup truck with a large liquor bottle visible on the dashboard. By the time police arrived 10 minutes later, the truck was gone. The investigating officers ran the licence plate number and realized the truck belonged to Tighe, their colleague. They figured he might be driving home and took the most obvious route in that direction. On the way, they were flagged down by a female driver.

"As she coasted past the officers, she told them that she had just passed a male stalled on the road dumping beer out of the driver’s side of his vehicle," Heinrichs said.

The court didn't hear any evidence from that woman, or from the man who called 911. They didn't testify and no statements from them were provided to court. The only person called to testify for the Crown was the arresting officer, Const. Kylee Brydon, who testified she had previously seen Tighe intoxicated in a social setting and knew he was drunk on that day.

"I had no doubt in my mind that he was impaired," she testified during Tighe's one-day trial in June. She described the day of the arrest as the worst in her policing career.

Brydon testified Tighe was sitting in his stalled truck and seemed confused about why the engine wouldn't start. She testified she could see the fuel gauge and noticed the truck seemed to be out of gas, but Tighe told her his vehicle was broken and he was contacting the OnStar in-vehicle safety system.

She testified she smelled stale beer in the vehicle and smelled alcohol on his breath, noticing his bloodshot and glassy eyes and later finding empty or near-empty bottles and cans in the truck, including a tiny unopened bottle of whisky in the driver's side door.

During cross-examination, Tighe's defence lawyer pointed out deficiencies in Brydon's notes and argued there could have been other explanations for some of the signs of impairment Brydon said she saw. Brydon testified Tighe didn't have trouble following directions and was walking "deliberately" and not swaying.

Tighe's defence lawyer, Lisa LaBossiere, said the Crown's evidence in his case was "thin" and he likely shouldn't have been arrested.

"I was always concerned with the evidence in this particular case, that it could not amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt," she said.

Hawley, who was formerly a lawyer in the United Kingdom, was granted his curative discharge after Crown and defence lawyers recommended it to provincial court Judge Tracey Lord in July. He's been in treatment for alcoholism, which he acknowledged has been a problem for him since he was a teenager.

Hawley has to follow certain conditions for two years, including abstaining from alcohol and attending alcoholics anonymous meetings. He is banned from driving for one year.

"The community expects a lot of police officers, both in terms of carrying out their duties and the way they conduct themselves in the community, and I often think that the public doesn’t necessarily understand the full effect of the type of work that you do on your personal well-being," Lord said at the time.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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History

Updated on Friday, August 10, 2018 at 7:32 PM CDT: Corrects Hawley's court date

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