Relief blended with surprise in a Toronto courtroom Friday as five former drug-squad officers convicted of attempting to obstruct justice and perjury were spared jail and handed conditional sentences of 45 days, to be served at home.
Sentencing judge Madam Justice Gladys Pardu cited the “ruin and humiliation” sustained by the officers during the lengthy case, which spanned nearly 14 years, and said the toll on their lives had been enormous.
As well, she listed a series of legal precedents involving analogous circumstances that were far more serious, and noted the near-flawless track records of the five before their troubles began.
Police Services Board member Councillor Michael Thompson, however, voiced astonishment at the outcome, which will allow the five to be outside their homes for much of the day for work-related and other reasons.
“One has to question the fairness of it all,” he said.
“If it was other citizens, would the court have treated them the same way? Frankly I’m not convinced that would be the case. It’s very unfortunate and it sends a message that leaves a lot to be desired.”
Lawyer Edward Sapiano, who with eight other lawyers first complained in 1999 about the defendants, said the same.
“Forty-five days house arrest is only marginally more than you might receive for a breach of bail. The court is equating police perjury with violating a curfew.”
The five belonged to a team 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, who remained a member of the Toronto Police Service throughout the proceedings, suspended with pay.
All 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 14 years. All are appealing their convictions.
The convictions stemmed from a single warrantless search of a small-time heroin dealer’s home in Scarborough in 1998, and the cover-up that followed. The trial jury acquitted the five on numerous other serious charges, including theft, assault and extortion. They belonged to the Central Field Command drug squad, and the long chain of events dates back to 1997. A special Toronto police internal task force investigated the officers for more than two years, before the charges were filed in January, 2004.
The head of the task force, then-RCMP-chief-superintendent John Neily, described the investigation in 2003 as “the largest police corruption scandal in Canadian history,” and outside court yesterday, he lauded the prosecutors and investigators.
“It is an ugly business,” he said. “Not everybody likes what you do. It is not a business about making friends.”
Immediately after being sentenced Friday, Constable Correia was told he is now no longer on the payroll, but he remains an officer pending the outcome of any appeals, and if he stays with the organization he faces charges under the Police Services Act.
“The sentence will have the greatest impact on him, more than anyone else,” his lawyer, Harry Black, said. “That’s why he was looking particularly sad and downcast – devastated really.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney-General declined comment on the possibility of any appeals by the Crown until the usual 30-day appeal-review period has elapsed.
The Toronto Police Association has been footing the legal bill for the defendants throughout the criminal proceedings.
“It has been expensive,” said TPA president Mike McCormack, who was in the packed courtroom along with scores of friends and relatives of the defendants.
Their lawyers had urged the judge not to imprison them, which they said would spell personal catastrophe for five dedicated men who had already suffered enough.
The Crown had called for penitentiary terms of four years for Mr. Schertzer and three years apiece for the other four.
The guilty verdicts in June came at the end of the defendants’ second trial, where two very different pictures emerged of what had once been an elite group of detectives. Prosecutors painted them as rogue cops who robbed and abused drug dealers, then falsified records and lied in court.
The defence, however, said their clients had made mistakes but were never corrupt.
The first trial was aborted when the judge concluded the proceedings had lasted so long the accused had been denied their constitutional right to a reasonably speedy trial.
But the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the judge’s decision, saying the delays were not unreasonable in light of the complexity of the case, and most of the charges were reinstated.
The defence lawyers were mostly content with the outcome.
“It was a very long process and everyone’s looking forward to moving on with their lives,” said Peter Brauti, who represented Mr. Miched. “I’m disappointed with the decision by the jury but I think the judge recognized the extreme prejudice these men have suffered. ... The punishment was the process.”
Mr. McCormack concurred.
“I wouldn’t say I’m pleased because I don’t think there were any winners,” he said.
“Now that it’s come to a conclusion we’ll look into it and decide what the next step will be.”