Four Toronto cops fabricated an ‘elaborate’ story to justify an illegal search, prosecution argues at police discipline hearing
|Toronto Star 07 Apr 2021 at 18:55|
As the four police officers told it — before a judge, under oath — the 2014 arrest of a Toronto man for serious drug offences had banal beginnings: a traffic stop after a car ran a red light.
It was then, after Toronto police Const. Jeffrey Tout spoke to the driver, that he spotted white powder on the vehicle console and had a hunch it was drugs — leading to the search of the vehicle and the discovery of a heroin stash tucked behind the steering wheel.
It was the picture of a “spontaneous” stop and “serendipitous” arrest, said police prosecutor Scott Hutchison in opening remarks on the first day of Wednesday.
“The problem with all of that, of course, is that that narrative — the arrest, the search, etc. — is simply untrue,” Hutchinson said.
In a statement laying out his case in the long-awaited misconduct hearing, Hutchinson painted a picture of his own: one of four cops who — acting on a tip from a confidential informant — deliberately sought out Nguyen Son Tran, the driver.
In Hutchinson’s version, there was no serendipity to the stop, never any heroin left on the console — an “inherently improbable” claim — and, crucially, no reasonable grounds to search Tran’s car.
The officers had spun an “elaborate” story before Ontario Superior Court judge Edward Morgan at a pretrial hearing for Tran because, ultimately, their search of Tran’s car had been “illegal,” he said.
“That’s why they had to lie about it.”
Tout, Const. Michael Taylor, Const. Benjamin Elliot and Const. Fraser Douglas have all pleaded not guilty to multiple professional misconduct charges under Ontario’s Police Services Act, including discreditable conduct. Taylor and Elliot are also accused of deceit.
The tribunal is a quasi-judicial forum not unlike court, in which an adjudicator — retired former police superintendent Greg Walton — will be presented with evidence and hear from witnesses to determine whether the officers have committed professional misconduct. The hearing is expected to last eight weeks.
If found guilty of misconduct, police officers face consequences ranging from a reprimand to dismissal. Joanne Mulcahy, the lawyer representing Tout, told the tribunal Wednesday that the officers have each received a notice that Toronto police is seeking their dismissal.
The officers have been suspended with pay since January 2016 .
The case stems , who was overseeing a pretrial proceeding on Tran’s drug charges at which all four officers testified. Although their testimony varied, the officers told Morgan that when Tran was stopped by police, there was a pile of loose heroin powder on the dashboard of his Toyota Camry.
Police then searched the car, discovering 11 grams of heroin tucked behind Tran’s steering column.
Under cross-examination by Tran’s lawyer, Kim Schofield, the officers’ version of events unravelled, according to Morgan — including why Tran wouldn’t have simply brushed away the loose heroin after being stopped by police.
The judge instead sided with Schofield, who argued the officers planted the drugs on the console as an after-the-fact justification for the search of the vehicle. Morgan stayed the drug charges against Tran and called the police conduct “egregiously wrongful.”
According to Hutchison, one day before Tran was arrested, Elliot made an inquiry about Tran to a colleague who was the handler of a confidential informant, and learned Tran — who was out on bail for previous offences — was “dealing again,” Hutchison said.
That same day, the prosecutor continued, Elliot searched Tran’s name through various databases maintained by Toronto police.
“We know that what actually happens is these officers leave (their local) division and essentially go looking for Mr. Tran,” Hutchison said.
Much of the first day of the hearing was spent listening to court audio of the officers’ testimony before Morgan in 2015, evidence Hutchison called “central” to the case.
The tribunal heard Tout describe in court how he pulled Tran over for a traffic stop after he ran a red light. After Tout asked him for his license and registration, he noticed Tran was positioned in the car so as to block the interior of the car; Tout said he then looked over Tran’s shoulder and saw a “white powder substance” on the console.
Hutchison, like Morgan, found this improbable, noting the amount on the console was a quantity valued at about $50 — “it’s not a bit of dust.”
“It’s simply so inherently improbable to think that Mr. Tran ... had (the drugs) out while he was driving, and then left it there, while the officer walked back and forth, investigating him, while he’s on bail for drug charges,” the prosecutor said.