Charges against an alleged heroin dealer have been waived after the court found that a Peel Regional Police officer stole a Scarface statue from the man’s storage unit, while executing a search warrant during a 2014 investigation, and then knowingly lied about it in court.
A suite of drug-related charges against 35-year-old Lowell Somerville of Brampton have been stayed as a result, leading Peel Police Chief Jennifer Evans to order an internal investigation following the ruling.
Ontario Superior Court judge Justice Jennifer Woollcombe described the conduct of Major Drugs and Vice Unit constables Richard Rerrie, Mihai Muresan, Emanuel Pinheiro and Damian Savino in a scathing 46-page judgement delivered in a Brampton courtroom Wednesday, as “profoundly and demonstrably inconsistent with what a fair justice system requires.
“It is only by permanently stopping these proceedings through a stay that the court can effectively distance the justice system from this gross and continuing misconduct.”
Peel police launch probe following voir dire decision
The same day the ruling was made, an internal investigation was launched into the allegations that the four Peel Regional Police officers violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and abused their powers.
“I am committed to accountability to maintain the trust that we have worked so hard to build with our community,” Evans said in a news release.
The investigation will be conducted by Peel police’s Professional Standards Bureau, Evans said.
Suspect faced 5 drug trafficking and possession charges
The charges against Somerville stem from a 2014 Peel police investigation that resulted in five drug trafficking and possession charges.
While the suspect was under surveillance on June 23, officers witnessed a drug deal, which led to his arrest and discovery of a gram each of heroin and methamphetamine while searching his car. After obtaining a search warrant for his apartment the following day, police allegedly found more drugs, including 24.2 grams of heroin. This is when police learned about a lease on a storage locker, according to court records.
Video shows officer carrying bulky object
Based on evidence at the proceeding, the judge determined that Rerrie carried out a search of his storage locker, stealing a large statue depicting Tony Montana, the lead character in the 1983 American crime blockbuster, Scarface.
The “one of a kind” three-and-a-half foot tall, hand-painted wooden sculpture was among a number of possessions Somerville discovered were missing from his unit after being released from custody.
He then contacted his lawyer, Kim Schofield, who requested security footage from the facility.
His complaint and video evidence kicked off a voir dire – a trial within a trial – in which the four officers were questioned about whether they had removed anything from the locker, according to court records.
Rerrie, alongside Savino, Muresan and Pinheiro, explained themselves “with the intention of deceiving the court about what they’d done,” Woollcombe wrote, describing their behavior as “not only profoundly disappointing, but shocking.”
After being shown surveillance video of Rerrie leaving the unit with a large object in his arms, he claimed it was a “stand-up heater from the hallway of the facility” with a “free” sign taped to it. The other three officers insisted they had “very peculiar and inexplicable” memory of Rerrie taking the heater, according to Woollcombe.
4 officers deliberately mislead the court, judge rules
Woollcombe concluded in her judgment that all four were aware that Rerrie had stolen the statue.
“Each officer knew that this was something that they had no right to take,” Woollcombe wrote. “Perhaps because they never suspected a drug dealer would complain or believed if he did, they committed what they knew was a theft of property.”
Somerville had also testified that other, far more valuable objects were also missing, including $25,000 in cash and a number of expensive jewelry pieces, but Woollcombe determined it was not possible to conclude based on the evidence that the officers had taken those items.
She wrote that the charges against Somerville were very serious, and that to stay them would prevent a trial in which “it was highly likely that [Somerville] would otherwise have been found guilty,” but she had no alternative.
“For me, what is worse, is that four officers attempted in their testimony, to deliberately mis-lead the court,” Woollcombe wrote in the judgment.