What constitutes gross misconduct
for RCMP officers questioned
Brian Hutchinson, National Post, Dec. 5, 2009
The Crown in B.C. has decided to go easy on Benjamin Monty Robinson, the RCMP corporal who downed some beers at a party last year and then ploughed his Jeep into a 21-year-old motorcyclist.
As Orion Hutchinson lay dying in a Delta, B.C. intersection, Cpl. Robinson left the scene on foot. To drink some vodka shots, he claims. Some 10 minutes later, reeking of booze and his eyes bloodshot, Cpl. Robinson returned to the fatality. Delta police were on scene. Cpl. Robinsons blood-alcohol level was well over the legal limit, they determined. He was drunk. Mr. Hutchinson was dead.
Cpl. Robinson was the senior of four RCMP officers to confront Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport a year earlier, in 2007. After dithering for months, the Crown this week announced it had rejected charge recommendations from Delta police. It would not attempt to prosecute Cpl. Robinson for impaired driving causing death, as recommended. It would not charge him with dangerous driving causing death, also recommended. Too tough to prove before a judge or a jury, a spokesman from B.C.s Ministry of Attorney-General tried to explain.
Cpl. Robinson is charged instead with one count of obstruction of justice. He is innocent unless proven otherwise. The tragic death of an innocent young man; the Crowns belated, timid decision; above all, Cpl. Robinsons recklessness. If all this seems a travesty, consider: Even if Cpl. Robinson pleads guilty to obstruction or goes to trial and is found guilty, he might still return to active RCMP duty.
Its not easy to dump the bad apples, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott admits. He said in an interview with the Edmonton Journal last month it should be easier for us to fire members of the RCMP where thats appropriate. It doesnt happen very often, but right now it takes a very long time to fire an officer for gross misconduct.
But what constitutes for the RCMP gross misconduct and a firing offence? Sexual incidents involving members are not tolerated. Neither, for that matter, are most cases of drunk driving and assault. But criminal convictions do not always lead to dismissals, and internal RCMP sanctions, if they result at all, can be weak. Serious cases of RCMP misconduct are not unusual, particularly, it seems, in B.C., where court documents outline serious indiscretions and allegations. Reporters have also obtained lists of RCMP adjudication board decisions that describe shocking behaviour and admissions by officers on active duty (see sidebar).
Last month, the National Post reported that RCMP Corporal John Graham, alleged in a B.C. court to have a propensity for violence, pleaded guilty to assault in 2002 after kicking a Prince George man described as resisting arrest. The man suffered broken bones in his face and was missing teeth, reads a court judgment. Cpl. Graham acknowledged that he had panicked and overreacted when dealing with the man. Yet he remains on active duty in Prince George, where he is alleged to have once deployed a Taser at least 21 times on another person under arrest. That arrest is now the subject of an internal RCMP Code of Conduct review, an investigative process ordered by senior Mounties when it appears there is evidence to support an allegation that a member has violated the RCMP Act.
Code of Conduct reviews are conducted by impartial RCMP officers, usually drawn from a Professional Standards Unit, says Sergeant Tim Shields, the RCMPs head of strategic communications in B.C. Once the review is concluded and a report is made, another officer must determine whether or not to proceed with an adjudication board hearing, where the offending officer is disciplined. These hearings can either be formal or informal, says Sgt. Shields. A formal adjudication board hearing involves three officers from an outside province. Rarely do they end with a dismissal order against an offending officer. When they do, the officer can appeal. And that can add years to an already lengthy, cumbersome process. Commissioner Elliott thinks this is unacceptable. Theres truth to the adage that justice delayed is justice denied, he told the Journal, adding that improvements to the RCMP Act are on the way to streamline the discipline process. He did not offer any specifics, nor did he consent to an interview on the matter this week.
News that Cpl. Graham remains on active duty leaves some people shaking their heads. After reading about Cpl. Graham in this newspaper, a former RCMP staff-sergeant described his feelings: I just cant understand how the organization would still employ such a member, especially after he was convicted of such a serious criminal offence. If he had been convicted of such an offence prior to applying to join the organization, would they have hired him?... All of this brings me to the conclusion that things are completely out of control.
The former staff-sergeant will not be pleased to learn about Donovan Tait. Getting transferred to Vancouver Island was like winning the lottery, Const. Tait told a local reporter in 2006. A year earlier, he was convicted in B.C. provincial court of assault causing bodily harm. On duty in North Vancouver, Const. Tait punched a man three times in the head and fractured his jaw on both sides, as the man lay handcuffed in the back of an RCMP vehicle.
Const. Tait has an issue with temperament, concluded Judge Carol Baird Ellan, noting he was the subject of four previous complaints related to use of force and proper arrest. Judge Baird decided that some of Const. Taits testimony was self-serving and not credible. With respect to grounds for arrest, Tait has added facts later in an effort to justify his actions, she wrote in her judgment. He was handed a suspended sentence. Const. Tait was transferred to Sooke, near Victoria. He now works from an RCMP detachment in Campbell River.
A Vancouver constable named Kenrick Whitney became angry when a civilian took a parking spot he wanted. I lost my cool for that short moment, he admitted in B.C. provincial court. Const. Whitneys assault victim told a more chilling story. He told me, Youre f---ing dead, he testified in 2003. Const. Whitney chased after the man on foot and knocked him to the ground. The next thing I knew, I was hit in the face, the victim testified.
Const. Whitney pleaded guilty to the assault and was sentenced to 25 hours of community service. He remained on duty, doing undercover work with the RCMPs drug-enforcement branch. Last year, he was the subject of a Code of Conduct review for another road-rage incident. Const. Whitney had confronted a driver in what the RCMP described as an unprofessional manner. He swore at the driver and spit on him. Const. Whitney was reprimanded by the RCMP and was docked five days pay. The stiffest penalty he could have faced under the RCMP Act besides dismissal or demotion was two weeks forfeiture of pay. He remains on active duty in B.Cs Lower Mainland.
As for Cpl. Robinson, he will be back in court on his obstruction of justice charge. Whatever the outcome, says Sgt. Shields, he will face an RCMP Code of Conduct review. He remains suspended from duty, with pay.