When the curtain rises Monday morning at the sentencing of five former Toronto drug-squad police officers, tripped up by their handling of a heroin dealer, it may not signal the final act. When convicted in June of attempting to obstruct justice, with three of the five also guilty of perjury, there was talk of an appeal.
But safe to say Canada has never seen a police-corruption case quite like this one. It lasted more than 15 years. It cost many millions of dollars and ended careers. It cast an ugly stain on the country’s biggest municipal police force.
And but for an unusually forceful ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal, which concluded the original trial judge made a “palpable and over-rriding error” in staying the charges, there would likely have been no verdicts at all.
The five officers belonged to the Central Field Command drug squad, and they could have fared much worse at their five-month trial earlier this year. After deliberating nine days, the jury acquitted them of extortion, theft, assault causing bodily harm and conspiracy.
But their victory blended with defeat.
“They’re feeling very disappointed, as I am, because we really felt this trial would be a complete vindication,” lawyer John Rosen, who represented former drug squad team leader John Schertzer, 54, told reporters after the verdict.
The other four are Nebojsa (Ned) Maodus, 49; Joseph Miched, 53; Raymond Pollard, 48; and Constable Steven Correia, 45, the only one of the five to remain on the police force, suspended with pay.
Together with Mr. Maodus and Mr. Pollard, Constable Correia was convicted not only of attempting to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum 10-year penalty, but also of perjury, which can bring 14 years.
Whether any of the five get jailed at all remains to be seen. Most observers suggest that because the process has dragged on so long, at such personal cost, they will not.
The trial heard from 30 witnesses, including several drug dealers, and viewed hundreds of exhibits. But in the end all the convictions stemmed from the warrantless search of a heroin dealer’s Scarborough apartment, and the cover-up that followed.
The tangle of events dates back to 1997, when drug-squad officers arrested two suspects and searched their homes without warrants. Then, in 1999, came accusations that members of the Team 3 unit were beating and robbing drug dealers.
Two years later, at the urging of Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, an RCMP-led task force began probing the allegations, and in 2004 Mr. Schertzer and five colleagues were charged with a total of 40 offences.
In 2007 all six went to trial. But then in January, 2008, after months of pretrial arguments, Mr. Justice Ian Nordheimer of Superior Court dropped his bombshell.
The charges would be stayed, he declared, because of the “glacial pace” of the proceedings, in particular the length of time it had taken for hundreds of thousands of pages of disclosure evidence to be given to the defence.
“I have strived to find any sense of urgency on the part of the prosecution … or any apparent recognition that this case was teetering on the precipice of unreasonable delay,” Judge Nordheimer told the court.
“I can find none on the record before me.”
With that the six elated defendants walked free, followed by much media criticism of the four-member prosecution team.
But the Crown was tenacious: It appealed the judge’s decision. And in October, 2009, its arguments prevailed.
The three-member appeal-court panel included Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver, later elevated to the Supreme Court of Canada, and it did not entirely upend Judge Nordheimer’s ruling.
One of the six defendants was former officer Richard Benoit, whose case was much less convoluted than the others. He had indeed been deprived of his constitutional right to a reasonably speedy trial, the appeal court ruled.
But Judge Nordheimer was flat wrong to have stayed charges against the other five because delays in the 56-month proceedings reflected “the inherent time required to prepare and prosecute this complex case,” it concluded.
“The trial judge’s broad finding that the vast majority of delay resulted from the Crown’s failure to make full disclosure in a timely fashion is unreasonable and constitutes a palpable and overriding error.”
So the charges were reinstated, a fresh trial was launched and the five were convicted.
And now, in what will likely be a packed downtown courtroom, they will learn the price.