They will not spend a single day in prison. That was surely enough to put a smile on those five faces. But grins would have been inappropriate. And these former Toronto drug squad officers, as we know from their years of court appearances, have mastered outward stoicism.
The dishonor roll: John Schertzer, Steven Correia, Ned Maodus, Joseph Miched and Raymond Pollard.
Exceedingly lax house arrest at that — what’s known in courthouse lingo as “working mom’s house arrest’’ because it allows exceptions for jobs, health-related appointments (including appointments for family members), consultation with lawyers and, oh yes, four hours free and clear each Saturday “to attend to personal needs.”
A decade of legal wrangling, three investigations internal and outside, dozens of specialized Crown attorneys assigned, 200 drug cases tossed out of court — un-prosecutable because they were worked by these tainted officers — 22 charges originally laid, knocked down to 14 after a preliminary hearing, eventually winnowed to nine by the Crown, an 86-day trial.
Five Toronto cops convicted of attempting to obstruct justice, three of them also convicted of perjury.
Only one — the last remaining member of the Team 3 Central Field Command drug squad crew still punching a clock on the force — will probably be booted. Correia still faces related charges under the Police Act and, as of Friday’s sentencing by Ontario Superior Court Justice Gladys Pardu, is suspended without pay, according to his lawyer. House arrest, said Harry Black, is defined as incarceration by Toronto Police Services, and that means Correia is done.
“It’s the end of his job,’’ mourned Harry Black. “It’s a huge loss.’’
The rest of the gang, all of whom resigned from police employment in the years since their 2004 arrest, are at liberty (which they never actually forfeited) to go on with their lives, pending appeal of the convictions, a process that has already been launched by a top-drawer legal posse.
All the convictions relate to a single incident, from the five postulated by prosecutors, where jurors accepted that the defendants conducted a search of Ho Bing Pang’s Scarborough apartment in February 1998, without a warrant, then “did willfully attempt to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice, by practising deception, including by making a false or misleading account of events in their memo books, and/or by lying to the court in their testimony’’ to conceal what they’d done.
It’s a saga that ends not with a bang, nor a whimper but, frankly, a wink — and the taste of ashes.
Read the judgment — as Pardu did, aloud, in court yesterday — and the folly of prosecuting disreputable, disesteemed, duplicitous officers in this country jumps off the page.
“There is no evidence of a pattern of criminal misconduct extending to matters other than Pang,’’ Pardu writes, in support of her decision — along with other factors — to reject the custodial sentence the Crown had sought. “There is no history of findings of misconduct under the Police Act. There is no evidence of a history of work-related misconduct.’’
Maybe not within the narrow confines of Pardu’s courtroom, but out in the real world it’s a different story. Three criminal investigations of the officers, 16 civilian complaints naming Schertzer — former head of the rogue drug squad — between 1992 and 1997, a misconduct charge laid against four squad members over the strip-search arrest of a drug dealer that was dismissed on a time-limit technicality, an internal audit that found 82 per cent of Team 3 cases ended in a stay or withdrawal of charges — and that was before this investigation of the squad began — and Schertzer among eight drug squad members charged in 2000 with theft, forgery and breach of trust for their use of the police “Fink Fund’’ — a cash reserve for paying informants — the charges never tested in court, stayed two years later in order to protect the larger Special Task Ford investigation, led by RCMP Chief Supt. John Neily, that culminated in this trial.
Paperwork irregularities, the defendants’ lawyers had argued at trial, nothing more than that if the public would only try to understand the immense pressures under which front-line drug cops operate, the interminable minutiae of documentation required to arrest bad guys, and just look at how bad the “victims’’ were: Drug dealers, unsavory crooks, underbelly street hoods, chronic liars, their accounts of being shaken down and ripped off not to be trusted. Any why care anyway if their rights had been traduced in the pursuit of a greater good that may have induced “noble cause corruption,” a mitigating circumstance that Pardu states she discounted in her sentencing deliberations.
She did take note of the humiliation and ruination suffered by the quintet, their sleepless nights, the post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses — who hasn’t staked a claim to PTSD lately? — their long police careers and the unlikelihood of re-offending, while concluding that suspended sentences and probation, as urged by defense counsels, would not reflect the “gravity’’ of the offences on which they were convicted.
If this outcome is a victory for justice, it is a small one indeed. The case finally did make it to trial, after being tossed out in 2008 by another judge because of the time it took to get to court. That decision was set aside by the Ontario Court of Appeal, which ordered a new trial. So there’s that. A jury of seven women and five men did bring in a rare guilty verdict against cops, measly as it was.
Try finding the denunciation and deterrence quotient in that.