Four Toronto cops accused of planting drugs on suspect
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Thursday, January 28, 2016 8:56AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 28, 2016 5:00PM EST
Four Toronto police officers are being accused of planting drugs on a suspect and then lying about it in court and Police Chief Mark Saunders is vowing to open an internal investigation into cases handled by the accused officers.
In total, the officers are facing 17 criminal charges.
The charges stem from a traffic stop in the Gerard Street East and Broadview Avenue area on Jan 13, 2014.
Nguyen Son Tran was arrested during a traffic stop after police said they found 11 grams of heroin hidden behind his steering wheel in individually wrapped packages but in September an Ontario Superior Court judge threw out the charges against Tran and accused the arresting officers of planting 0.3 grams of loose heroin on the console of his vehicle to justify a subsequent search.
“If the heroin was planted on the console (by) the police and was not actually left there by the defendant then the ensuing search was not authorized by law,” the judge said in his decision. “I conclude that this is indeed what happened here. All of the heroin that was found pursuant to this pretext for a search is, as they say, fruit of a poisoned tree.”
Police to probe other cases handled by officers
The accused officers were arrested at around 7 a.m. Thursday following an investigation by the Professional Standards Unit.
Though Police Chief Mark Saunders refused to comment specifically about the case at a news conference at 9 a.m., he said that he has put together a team of investigators to “scrutinize other cases” in which the officers have been involved.
Saunders also promised to earn back the trust of Torontonians in the wake of a difficult week that saw Const. James Forcillo found guilty of attempted murder in the shooting of Sammy Yatim and another officer charged under the Police Service Act for firing more than a dozen shots at a stolen vehicle in the city’s Distillery District.
"I am still proud of the work that the vast majority of our men and women do, both civilian and sworn, and we will get through this and we will do our best to get the public trust back that we have lost," Saunders said.
Judge said officers ‘concocted’ story
Two of the accused officers, who were posted to the Major Crimes Unit, testified in court that they attended the scene of the traffic stop after hearing the licence plate over police radio and recognizing it from the arrest of the suspect for drug offences one year prior.
The dispatch tapes, however, contain no reference to the licence plate and in his ruling Ontario Superior Court Justice E.M. Morgan concludes that both officers “concocted” the story and likely told the first officer to stop the suspect until they arrived on scene “and not the other way around.”
Supporting this, the justice wrote, was the defendant’s testimony that he overheard the initial arresting officer say the phrase “exactly him” into his cellphone as he approached his vehicle, presumably in reference to the defendant.
“The defence contends that having orchestrated the traffic stop of the defendant, the officers then orchestrated the pretext to search his car. It is hard to disagree with this logic,” Morgan wrote.
In addition to pointing out the “collusive nature” of the officers testimony, Morgan also questioned why the suspect didn’t just wipe the loose heroine from the console upon being pulled over, noting that something in the initial officer’s account just “doesn’t add up.”
“No empty or half empty bag has been produced from which it supposedly spilled, no implements for using heroin were found on the defendant or in his vehicle. No heroin was spilled on the defendant’s clothing and nothing else was found in the search to indicate that the defendant was in the process of using, transferring or handling heroin, “ the ruling said. “The loose heroin lying openly on the console of the car is inexplicable.”
Union boss says charges are ‘deeply concerning’
The officers, who have between 9 and 17 years of experience on the force, have all been released from custody on a promise to appear in court on March 11.
Discussing the charges with reporters on Thursday morning, Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack said they are “very troubling and deeply concerning” but urged members of the public to refrain from judgement for now.
“This goes to the heart of policing, it is about something that we do that is an integral part of policing, testimony, but these are unproven allegations,” he said. “These officers just like everybody else are entitled to a presumption of innocence.”
While McCormack said that the public will undoubtedly be “questioning and looking at” police differently in the wake of the charges he suggested that the case should in some ways build confidence as it shows that the TPS is serious about investigating corruption.
Mayor John Tory also echoed those thoughts on Thursday, telling reporters at city hall that he has full confidence in Police Chief Mark Saunders and the Toronto Police Service as a whole.
“In a big organization like this are you going to have incidents happen that are troubling and concerning? Of course you are,” he said. “The real measure is how you handle those and how you deal with those and I certainly heard the chief this morning be very firm in his determination to make sure that these things are handled in a way that the public can have confidence that the people who have done something wrong, if they have, are brought to justice.”
Officers have been suspended with pay
Saunders would not speak to any of the evidence against the officers on Thursday, however Tran’s lawyer Kim Schofield did tell CP24 that she understands that there was some “some evidence uncovered that corroborated” her client’s story beyond what was presented in the initial court case.
Schofield also pointed our that she made an unsuccessful charter application in a previous drug case involving her client that alleged that the very same officers that “lied in this case” lied in that case as well.
“I am surprised, I am relieved and I am impressed to be here with these officers facing extremely serious charges,” she said.
Const. Jeffrey Tout, 41, is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury, Det. Const. Benjamin Elliott, 32, is charged with three counts of obstruction of justice and three counts of perjury, Const. Michael Taylor, 34, is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury and Det. Const. Fraser Douglas, 37, is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury.
All four officers have been suspended with pay pending the results of the criminal proceedings against them, as per the terms of the Police Services Act.