The trials of two Toronto officers, both accused of using unlawful force when dealing with suspects, began Monday in Ontario Superior Court, with several police colleagues in the public galleries to show support.
While the trials involve unrelated allegations, in both cases the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) didn’t learn of the incidents until nearly two years after they occurred, because the agency was not notified by Toronto police.
The start of the trials also comes just a few weeks after the SIU and Toronto police were publicly critical of each other over the handling of a complaint in another allegation of excessive force.
Constable Boris Petkovic is on trial on a charge of aggravated assault, accused of discharging his firearm and wounding a suspect in the early morning hours of Aug. 20, 2007. In a courtroom two floors above, Detective Constable Gerrard Arulanandam is facing charges of assault causing bodily harm and uttering threats during a drug-squad raid in June 2006, at an apartment building near Lawrence Avenue West and Black Creek Drive.
Constable Petkovic, a 10-year veteran, was on an overnight shift when he pulled over the driver of a BMW sport utility vehicle, heading eastbound on Eglinton Avene East, near Victoria Park Avenue. The officer told Phabien Rhodius to get out of his car, said Crown attorney John McInnes in his opening address to the jury. Mr. Rhodius was on bail at the time, on charges of illegally possessing a firearm. The suspect replied, Mr. McInnis said, that his bail papers “are right here” and moved his body to try to open the console between the front seats. “It was at this point that Constable Petkovic fired his weapon,” Mr. McInnis said.
The first shot grazed Mr. Rhodius near his left armpit. A firearms expert will testify that shot entered the car through the rear driver side window, toward the front of the vehicle. A second shot hit the tail gate of the BMW.
Mr. Rhodius, who drove away, abandoned his car nearby and surrendered to police a week later, was charged with several offences including attempted murder. He eventually pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and other offences, while the Crown withdrew the attempted murder charge.
After his release from custody in 2009, Mr. Rhodius contacted the SIU because he believed it had custody of his car. “When Rhodius called them, they had no record of the case,” said Mr. McInnes. The Crown attorney said he will present evidence that contradicts the police claim that Mr. Rhodius was shot in self defence. “The bottom line is this, when Boris Petkovic fired those two shots, he simply could not have been in the path of the vehicle,” said Mr. McInnes.
The Crown conceded that the alleged victim has a criminal record, which may impact his credibility, but stressed to the jury the trial “is not a beauty contest” between the officer and Mr. Rhodius.
The jury was told Monday by Justice Gladys Pardu that the criminal background of Mr. Rhodius is relevant to its task. “You may consider whether his character may suggest he acted one way or the other,” she said.
Det. Constable Arulanandam is being tried by Justice Harriet Sachs, without a jury. The defendant was one of eight Toronto police officers who entered a third-floor apartment, following at least 10 attempts to breach the door with a battering ram. Shayne Fisher testified Monday that he was visiting the apartment, bringing over a “mixed tape” to the person who lived there, when the raid took place.
The 29-year-old, who works in construction and has no criminal record, said he was beaten with a “metallic object” in the kidney area and kicked in the head. He pointed to the defendant as the officer who kneed him in the ribs. Hospital records show Mr. Fisher’s injuries included a fractured rib, perforated eardrum and bruising around the eye.
The resident of the apartment later pleaded guilty to drug and weapons charges. The SIU learned of the incident after reading a media report about a Superior Court judge’s ruling in 2008 that acquitted Mr. Fisher of all charges and concluded police used excessive force.
A spokesman for the Toronto police declined to comment Monday because the two cases are before the courts.