While sitting inside a car with a friend in a west-end high school parking lot, Christopher Quigley was suddenly approached by nearly half a dozen men dressed in jeans and T-shirts.
“They were plainclothes. I didn’t even realize they were police. They were screaming. I remember a gun being drawn,” Mr. Quigley testified Monday. Dragged outside, handcuffed and then driven away in an unmarked car, he was told that he was “going to see the boss,” he said. Over the next several hours, he was allegedly threatened and beaten and his mother was intimidated into surrendering a key to a bank safety deposit box containing $54,000 in cash.
The “boss” in Mr. Quigley’s testimony was John Schertzer, a now retired Toronto police detective and former leader of a disbanded Toronto police drug squad, which is at the centre of the biggest police corruption trial in the city’s history.
The allegations against Mr. Schertzer and four other former drug squad colleagues were made during the first day of their trial in Ontario Superior Court – almost eight years to the day after the officers were charged following a special internal task force investigation.
Mr. Schertzer, Raymond Pollard, Steven Correia, Ned Maodus and Joseph Miched are facing more than two dozen corruption-related charges, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, assault causing bodily harm and extortion. The jury has been told to expect the trial to last more than six months.
The prosecution is focusing on five separate investigations by the former drug squad officers between 1997 and 1999.
The officers are alleged to have engaged in illegal searches of private residences, stolen money or jewellery from suspects and misled prosecutors and the courts about the way their investigations were conducted. An ongoing conspiracy to obstruct justice is the “bright thread that runs through this entire case” and links the actions of the defendants, Crown attorney John Pearson explained to the jury in his opening argument. The officers “tried to cover their tracks and tried to protect each other from the reach of the law,” he added.
The alleged victims in the five investigations were all suspected drug dealers and many have criminal records, the jury heard. “You may find these witnesses to be disreputable and unsavoury,” the Crown conceded. But the task for the jury is not whether the witnesses are “good or bad people,” said Mr. Pearson. “The point of this trial is whether the defendants engaged in the criminal conduct which I have described.”
Mr. Quigley was the first witness called by the Crown, following a lengthy opening statement outlining the evidence it expects to call over the next several weeks.
The jury was told that the witness used to support himself in a “variety of ways,” including the sale of marijuana. With close-cropped hair and broad shoulders, Mr. Quigley could have been mistaken in appearance for a police officer at the downtown Toronto courthouse, as he testified about what he said happened to him on the evening of April 30, 1998.
No drugs were found on Mr. Quigley when he was arrested and a paper bag found inside the car contained sunglasses. On the way to a midtown police station, Mr. Quigley testified that he was told he was in “big trouble” and he better disclose where he kept his drugs.
Later, inside an interrogation room, Mr. Quigley said the demands continued and he was first assaulted by Mr. Schertzer. The officer was “extremely agitated,” said Mr. Quigley. “You better tells us where your drugs are, where your money is, where your gems are,” Mr. Quigley recounted the officer demanding.
The witness testified that he told police where a “small amount” of marijuana was kept in his apartment. The jury was told by the Crown it will hear evidence of the defendants questioning Mr. Quigley’s mother and then reporting only $23,000 of the $54,000 later seized from a safety deposit box.
The jury was also shown photos of a bruised Mr. Quigley, which he had taken after being released from police custody.
When asked by the Crown how he was injured, he said he was “attacked by officers while in custody.”
His testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday.
Special to The Globe and Mail