Pubdate: Tue, 25 Nov 2003
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 The Province
Author: Adrienne Tanner


Vancouver Constables Still Face Sentencing, Disciplinary Hearing Before 
Chief Decides If They Can Keep Their Jobs

Six Vancouver police officers who roughed-up three suspected drug dealers 
in Stanley Park in January each pleaded guilty to three counts of common 
assault yesterday.

After running a gauntlet of cameras, the officers looked rattled as they 
entered the courthouse.

Only Const. Christopher Cronmiller personally addressed the judge when 
asked to enter his plea.

The others, constables Raymond Gardner, Duncan Gemmell, James Kenney, 
Gabriel Kojima and Brandon Steele, had their lawyers plead guilty for them.

The plea bargain significantly reduced the severity and lowered the number 
of charges initially laid against the six junior officers from 33 to 18.

Special Crown prosecutor Robert Gourlay stayed all charges of assault with 
a weapon and attempted obstruction of justice, and agreed to proceed by 
summary conviction on the remaining counts of common assault. That means 
the maximum sentence the officers face is six months in jail.

The plea bargain effectively disables a civil lawsuit filed by the victims, 
said the victims' lawyer, Phil Rankin.

He said there is precedent-setting law suggesting damages suffered by 
common assault victims are insufficient to warrant a civil remedy.

He said he was appalled by the terms of the plea bargain.

"It's such a laugh that you can be abducted by the police, taken to Stanley 
Park, beaten in a gauntlet, told to 'leave Vancouver or you'll die' or 
words to that effect, and they'll take a plea to common assault," he said, 
referring to the victims' civil statement of claim.

Rankin called the agreed statement of facts which form the basis of the 
guilty plea a "complete and utter whitewash."

"It's pale, light facsimile. You vaguely know they're talking about the 
same thing but you really, really have to strain to think it's the same case."

Shortly after the Jan. 14 assaults, Barry Lawrie, one of the victims, told 
The Province he and two friends were snatched from Granville Mall, driven 
to Stanley Park in a police wagon where they were kicked and beaten with 
police batons and left to walk home shoeless.

The facts entered in court relate a far softer version of events.

At 4:30 a.m. the three victims, Lawrie, Jason Desjardins and Grant Wilson, 
were arrested in Khan's market after Gemmell and Gardner saw them arguing 
over what they suspected was a drug deal.

"Wilson resisted arrest," the court document says. The two arresting 
officers were joined by Steele, Cronmiller and Kojima.

Last to arrive were Kenney and Const. Troy Peters, a recruit, who later 
confessed the truth about the incident.

The trio were placed in the police wagon and the cadre of officers followed 
in a convoy to Third Beach in Stanley Park. One by one, as the victims were 
released, they were roughed-up and verbally abused by the gang of officers.

Gemmell poked Lawrie in the chest with his index finger while Steele and 
Gardner "berated him." Steele and Kojima gave Lawrie a shove.

Desjardins was next out. Gemmell punched him in the stomach and Gardner 
shoved him in the chest a couple of times. "Kojima contacted Desjardins 
with his police-issue baton in the vicinity of his knee," the fact sheet 

Wilson was last out. He was berated and punched by Steele, shoved by 
Gardner and "prodded" by Kojima's boot instep.

Kenney had no physical or verbal contact with any of the victims but 
watched from a few metres away.

The officers discussed the incident at the station later that morning. In a 
report filed the same day, Gemmell said all three victims had been released 
at separate times and locations.

There was no mention of physical contact until more than a week later when 
Peters disclosed what he knew to police authorities. He remains working as 
a police constable.

The six guilty officers will be sentenced on Dec. 16 and 17 and remain 
suspended with pay until their disciplinary hearings in January, said VPD 
spokeswoman Const. Anne Drennan.

"An assault conviction doesn't mean you automatically lose your job. After 
the [disciplinary] process is complete, the chief constable . . . will make 
his decision," she said.

The officers earn about $50,000 a year, which means it has cost Vancouver 
taxpayers approximately $300,000 to pay them for not working over the past 

John Richardson, executive-director of PIVOT, a legal advocacy group which 
has filed 50 complaints about police misconduct on behalf of people in the 
Downtown Eastside, said the guilty pleas go some way to validate other 

"There's no pretending any more there are no problems within the VPD," he said.

Const. Tom Stamatakis, police union president, insisted the incident was an 
isolated "mistake."

"These members accepted responsibility for their actions at the start . . . 
and now we're at the point where they and the police department can move on."

Stamatakis said he does not believe the department's reputation has been 
tarnished. "The information came forward and the police department took 
immediate steps to deal with it."

He downplayed suggestions that the officers' inexperience contributed to 
their poor judgment. More important, he said, is the stressful working 
environment faced by police working in the drug-riddled downtown area.

"We deal with issues that I would suggest aren't faced by any other police 
department across the province or even in the country."
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