Lawyers for two former Toronto drug-squad officers convicted of perjury and trying to obstruct justice fought to keep their clients out of jail Tuesday, urging the sentencing judge to show leniency.
The lawyers’ tactics were two-pronged: Emphasizing the distress the two men have already suffered during the 15 years the case has dragged on, and citing a long list of legal precedents in which perjury and obstruct-justice convictions for police officers have resulted in fines, suspended sentences and probation.
The Crown has called for penitentiary terms of four years and three years for the two men, and for three-year sentences for three other co-convicted former members of what was once an elite police unit.
Lead prosecutor Milan Rupic wrapped up his submissions Tuesday morning, declaring the five have shown “no acknowledgment of responsibility and no expression of remorse.”
The disgraced drug squad team was led by John Schertzer, 54. The other former members are Nebojsa (Ned) Maodus, 49; Joseph Miched, 53; Raymond Pollard, 48; and Constable Steven Correia, 45, still technically a police officer, but suspended with pay.
After years of legal battles, the five were convicted in June of attempting to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum 10-year penalty. Mr. Maodus, Mr. Pollard and Constable Correia were also found guilty of perjury, which can bring a sentence of 14 years.
All eight convictions stemmed from a single warrant-less search of a small-time heroin dealer’s home in Scarborough, and the cover-up that followed. The five were acquitted on numerous other charges.
The penitentiary sentences sought by the Crown would be “completely excessive and out of the range of acceptable sentences,” lawyer Alan Gold, who represents Mr. Schertzer, told the crowded courtroom and he urged Madam Justice Gladys Pardu to “dismiss those numbers.”
Lawyer Harry Black, acting for Constable Correia, concurred.
“The cases the Crown has provided to you are so unlike the case before you as to be of no assistance,” he said.
In light of his previously unblemished record, Mr. Schertzer should receive a suspended sentence coupled with community work, Mr. Gold said, listing a range of mitigating factors and noting the particularly unpleasant circumstances former police officers face behind bars.
Unlike most instances of police corruption, none of these former officers’ misdeeds were designed to help criminals escape justice, he said, arguing that “a person who has led a good life and made a contribution is entitled to a measure of leniency.”
Two of the other four defendants retired from the Toronto Police Service and two resigned.
All five belonged to the Central Field Command drug squad, and the tangle of events dates back to 1997, when drug squad officers arrested two suspects and searched their homes without warrants.
The guilty verdicts in June came at the end of the defendants’ second trial.
At the first trial, the charges were stayed in 2008 after the judge concluded the proceedings had lasted so long the five men had been denied their constitutional right to a reasonably quick trial.
But in a ruling later upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the judge’s decision, saying the delays were not unreasonable, and most of the charges were reinstated.
Both Mr. Schertzer and Const. Correia are married to police officers – Mr. Schertzer’s wife Joyce, a detective with the Toronto homicide squad, was among the court spectators Tuesday – and their lawyers said that the criminal charges and convictions have had a huge impact on the two men, encompassing stress, depression, social isolation and humiliating media coverage.
Large binders of support letters to the judge from relatives and friends were filed as court exhibits, describing how the two men’s lives have been upended by what Mr. Schertzer’s 17-year-old daughter described as “the storm of this shameful predicament,” which began when she was in kindergarten.
“My Dad is the glue of our family,” she wrote. “I am asking you please not to send him to jail.”
Const. Correia’s plight remains particularly dire, Mr. Black told the hearing.
The toll on his personal life has been enormous and even if he receives a conditional jail term, which usually means house arrest, his police career will instantly end, Mr. Black said.
Onerous reporting conditions are attached to his job, which is now reduced to commuting into Toronto from Mississauga, signing in at police headquarters twice daily and doing little else.
Before his troubles, Constable Correia had “an exemplary record,” Mr. Black said.
“He was recognized as a real asset, someone who had a tremendous career under way.”
The hearing resumes Wednesday.