In the Media – Marijuana Charges
Toronto Star Articles
Peel drug cops told calculated lies in court, judge says
February 10, 2012 edition of The Toronto Star, by Betsy Powell
A photograph of Tan-Hung Dinh shows obvious bruising suffered in what an Ontario Superior Court justice ruled was an unprovoked beating by Peel Region police who arrested him for drug trafficking.
Peel Region Police say they are conducting an internal investigation after a judge’s damning words about the “reprehensible” conduct of members of their drug squad. But critics are skeptical anything will be done.
“The police lied under oath in order to cover up (an) illegal search and persisted in their lying when confronted with the most damning of evidence. All these misdeeds were calculated, deliberate and utterly avoidable,” Superior Court Justice Deena Baltman said Friday in a Brampton courtroom, reading out her reasons for sparing a baby-faced cocaine dealer a prison sentence.
“The police showed contempt not just for the basic rights of every accused but for the sanctity of a courtroom,” said Baltman, referring to four officers from the force’s drug and vice unit, who are involved in a multitude of other narcotics cases in Peel.
If perjury charges are laid and the officers convicted, then all investigations would probably be tainted and charges stayed, legal observers say.
But defence lawyer Leora Shemesh says previous judicial findings of misconduct by Peel police have been ignored and she doubts this case will be different.
“Since last September, Internal Affairs has had a formal finding from a Superior Court judge who concluded the officers’ conduct was reprehensible and should be addressed,” Shemesh said.
“Nothing has happened. No charges have been laid and internal affairs appears to be asleep at the wheel.”
Shemesh represented Tan-Hung Dinh. On Friday, the 28-year-old avoided prison after Baltman found Peel officers beat him, searched his home illegally and then came to court and lied about it.
After a pre-trial Charter motion ruling released last September, Baltman cited police misconduct as the reason for excluding all evidence seized from Dinh’s home, including two kilograms of cocaine, an ecstasy press and 2,000 grams of ecstasy.
The officers involved “essentially colluded and then committed perjury, en masse. This must be addressed in a concrete way,” she wrote in her 38-page decision of Sept. 28.
A publication ban covering the ruling was lifted Friday after Dinh pleaded guilty to a remaining charge of trafficking nearly a kilo of cocaine found in the trunk of his car.
Minutes after Baltman spoke, Peel Police Chief Mike Metcalf issued a statement saying he ordered an internal investigation after learning of Baltman’s comments last fall.
“Allegations made against members of this service are taken seriously and will be investigated thoroughly,” he said.
The officers remain on active duty pending completion of the investigation.
Two Peel internal investigators were in the court Friday. They refused to acknowledge who they were or make any comment when approached by a Star reporter.
Baltman said she was deviating from a prison sentence range of five to eight years typical for trafficking in that amount of drugs because of the “serious police misconduct involved.”
She sentenced Dinh to a two-year conditional sentence, with the first half to be served under house arrest.
Prosecutor Surinder Aujula, who told court “significant factors can be found for a (sentence) reduction in this case,” asked for a two-year custodial sentence but said the Crown was not opposed to two years less one day, allowing for a conditional sentence.
Dinh has been living under strict house arrest without any breaches since he was released Sept. 11, 2009, Baltman noted. The automotive technician has no criminal record, has strong family support and appears to have been drawn into a drug subculture.
He admitted to brokering a cocaine deal on Sept. 9, 2009, when he was duped into meeting Const. Ian Dann, posing as a customer, at a Super 5 motel room in Mississauga.
Dann, along with constables Jason Hobson, Jay Kirkpatrick and Steve Roy, were inside the room. Other officers set up surveillance outside.
Dinh arrived in the parking lot, walked to the room and knocked on the door, where officers were waiting.
But when his drug trafficking charges got to court, Shemesh applied to have the charges stayed or evidence excluded. She alleged there were numerous Charter violations during the arrest.
Last summer, the judge heard evidence, including the testimony of Dinh and the officers. Baltman found a “gross disparity” in their descriptions of what happened.
Dinh testified he was pulled into the room by several officers, pushed onto a bed and beaten.
The officers denied any undue force was used, nor did they observe any injuries to him.
Citing photographs of his injuries, and evidence of his doctor, the judge sided with Dinh, saying the officers could not explain the bruises in the photos.
“Police used unwarranted physical violence against a fully cooperative subject,” she wrote in her September ruling.
Baltman added that while she found it “impossible” to determine how the injuries were caused and by whom, she was satisfied one of more of the officers “deliberately and unnecessarily injured Mr. Dinh.”
She also found other Charter breaches and excluded the drugs found in the residence.
But Baltman did find that the cocaine police obtained from his vehicle was admissible, so he faced a trial.
Dinh admitted his involvement and agreed to plead guilty but felt he needed to “tell his story,” Shemesh told court. “He has always been very clear about why he is here and what he expected out of our judicial system,” she said.
“He is settled with the fact that he is being punished for his poor behaviour and he is settled that the judical system proceeded fairly in its assessment of the conduct that was perpetrated against him.”