Pubdate: Tue, 06 Jan 2004
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 The Province
Author: Adrienne Tanner, The Province; with files from Keith Fraser and 
Canadian Press


All six face a disciplinary hearing to determine if they can keep their jobs

Describing their actions as "mob mentality," Provincial Court Judge Herb 
Weitzel handed six Vancouver police officers a range of sentences 
yesterday, from house arrest to an absolute discharge.

The officers had pleaded guilty to assaulting three suspected drug dealers 
in the early hours of Jan. 14, 2003, at Third Beach in Stanley Park.

None of the complainants, all drug users with lengthy criminal records, was 
seriously injured.

Four of the officers -- constables Duncan Gemmell, Gabriel Kojima, Brandon 
Steele and Raymond Gardner -- will now carry criminal records of their own.

Const. James Kenney, who watched but did not participate in the assaults, 
was granted an absolute discharge. And Const. Christopher Cronmiller, who 
simply pushed one of the victims, was given a conditional discharge.

Weitzel said there is legal precedent to spare officers criminal records in 
cases where the assault was a spontaneous overreaction during an arrest. 
"This was not a heat-of-the-moment situation," he said.

There was time for reflection during the trip from Granville Mall to the 
deserted park. And the violence, once it began, escalated as the men were 
released one by one from the police wagon, he noted.

"Instead of a heat-of-the-moment situation it became, in my view, a 
situation of mob mentality."

Also troubling, said Weitzel, was the subsequent cover-up, which included a 
falsified report. Silence reigned until the following week when a recruit 
who witnessed the assaults reported what he had seen.

Weitzel praised the integrity of Const. Troy Peters, then a police recruit 
and now a full-fledged officer, who was present at the incident and 
reported it, which led to charges. "He is the one bright light . . . [who] 
knew the true nature of policing," said Weitzel.

Gemmell, who at 39 is the oldest and most experienced of the junior 
officers, was given the stiffest sentence -- 60 days of house arrest and 
six months' probation. He will be allowed out during the day, but must be 
home between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Weitzel said Gemmell instigated the violence and therefore bore the highest 
level of moral responsibility.

Next was Kojima, 24, the youngest officer who used his police baton and 
steel-toed boot during the assaults. He was sentenced to one month of house 
arrest with the same curfew conditions and six months' probation.

Steele, 31, who punched one victim and shoved another, was given a 
suspended sentence with six months' probation. And Gardner, 32, who was 
directly involved in all three assaults, received a suspended sentence with 
nine months' probation and 50 hours of community service.

Prosecutor Robert Gourlay said he will review the sentences before deciding 
whether an appeal is warranted.

The fate of the officers' careers will be decided at an internal 
disciplinary hearing later this month.

Const. Tom Stamatakis, head of the Vancouver Police Union, said he believes 
all six officers should be kept on.

"They're good people. They made a mistake. People get second chances all 
the time . . . including many other people in other professions where the 
public place their trust. I don't think these officers are any different."

Vancouver police Deputy Chief Bob Rich declined to comment on the 
sentencing. He said the officers will appear before an internal 
disciplinary hearing presided over by Chief Jamie Graham on Jan. 15 and 16.

Graham will render a decision within 10 days of the hearing and his 
decision is subject to further review by the police complaints 
commissioner, Rich said.

Rich said he believed the police department had done the "right thing" from 
the beginning, taking steps needed to ensure the community was protected.

Phil Rankin, a lawyer representing the victims in a civil suit, said he had 
mixed feelings about the sentencing. "You always feel sort of sorry when 
you see people's careers in jeopardy. So I had that feeling even though I'm 
sure my clients don't."

Rankin said his clients believe the officers should have gone to jail -- 
"because had the tables been reversed, they all would have gone to jail."

He said Weitzel made a reasoned, compassionate judgment with the facts 
placed before him. However, Rankin said his clients give a different 
account of the assaults.

"There was a lot more violence, a lot more kicking, a lot more hitting with 
instruments, according to what my clients say, and they all suffered injuries."

Rankin said the judge should have treated all six officers the same.

"I thought the judge did quite a marvellous job of cutting and dicing. If 
you accept that people acted as a mob, then why should you distinguish 
between the one that kicks and the one that pushes and the one that pinches?"
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