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Criminal

Charges against officers send message no one is above the law

Canadian Press THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO – Four Toronto police officers have been charged with obstruction of justice and perjury after allegedly providing false testimony in court.

Police Chief Mark Saunders says the officers face a total of 17 charges and have all been suspended with pay as the case plays out in court.

Saunders says a team from the force's professional standards division will investigate other cases the officers have worked on.

``Anything that questions the integrity of any member of the Toronto Police Service concerns me,'' Saunders said at a news conference Thursday morning.

Court documents show the charges against the officers stem from the case of a man accused of drug possession and drug trafficking following a traffic stop on Jan. 13, 2014.

In September, Ontario Superior Court Judge Edward Morgan dismissed the charges against Nguyen Son Tran, ruling that the drugs found in his car were not admissible due to an unreasonable search and seizure that violated the defendant's charter rights, according to the court documents.

The judge cited the officers' inconsistent testimony as a reason for dismissing the charges.

``The false creation of a pretext to search the defendant's vehicle, combined with the collusive fabrication of a story by the two lead Officers as to why they came to assist in the traffic stop of the defendant, certainly amounts to egregiously wrongful conduct,'' Morgan wrote in his decision.

The officers' accounts of the initial traffic stop vary, Morgan noted.

Tran was pulled over and police said they saw heroin sprinkled on the console of his car, which led to a further search of the car where they found roughly 12 grams of heroin. One officer alleged Tran had run a red light and nearly hit a pedestrian.

Tran testified that he had not run a red light, but was pulled over by police after one officer recognized him and said no heroin was found in his car, but that an officer pulled a bag of heroin after searching the vehicle.

It was the same officer who had arrested Tran a year earlier. Tran eventually pleaded guilty to possessing heroin in that case, according to court documents.

``There is too much falsehood, and too many unexplained and otherwise unexplainable elements in the police testimony,'' Morgan wrote in his decision.

``I conclude from all this that the loose heroin was placed on the console of the Toyota by the police after their search, and was not left there by the defendant prior to the search.''

The charges against the officers haven't been tested in court.

Tran's lawyer, Kim Schofield, told The Canadian Press she was pleased with the charges laid against the officers.

``They figured out afterward that they needed grounds in order to search him,'' she said, alleging they ``conspired to plant evidence.''

Toronto police union head Mike McCormack said the officers were arrested earlier around 7 a.m. Thursday and released before 9 a.m., emphasizing the officers weren't given special treatment.

``These are allegations that haven't been proven,'' McCormack told reporters, but added the accusations are disturbing. ``This has been a very bad week for the members of the Toronto Police Service.''

On Monday, Const. James Forcillo was found guilty of attempted murder in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013, but found not guilty of murder.

The officers charged Thursday are: Const. Jeffrey Tout, 41, Det. Const. Benjamin Elliott, 32, Const. Michael Taylor, 34, and Det. Const. Fraser Douglas, 37.

All are scheduled to appear in court on March 11.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto criminal lawyer Elham Jamshidi says the charges against the officers are rare but serious because they go directly to the heart of a person’s credibility.

“Obviously for an officer of the court, credibility is critical — it’s their reputation and if it's diminished, that will carry significant weight on that person’s career," she says. 

Jamshidi, principal with Jamshidi & Associates, comments on the case generally and isn't involved in the matter. She says that while the charges are unusual, she has seen cases where officers have fabricated or exaggerated some of their evidence in court.

“I have seen cases become a credibility competition between the police and the accused and I have seen officers exaggerate, fabricate and lie under oath in court with zero consequences,” she says. 

She says the charges, while not proven in court, send a clear message to officers that no one is above the law not even the police.

“I’m impressed that the Toronto Police Service is investigating their own people and are acknowledging that officers who mislead the court or fabricate evidence ought to be held accountable,” she says. 

- With files from AdvocateDaily.com

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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