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The Thunder Bay Police Service building on March 11, 2022.David Jackson/The Globe and Mail

A Thunder Bay Police Service staff sergeant has been charged with two counts of assault, breach of trust and obstruction of justice – the first criminal charges to stem from an investigation launched nearly two years ago into allegations of misconduct within the force.

The Ontario Provincial Police announced Wednesday that Staff Sgt. Mike Dimini was arrested and charged in connection to incidents that occurred in August, 2014; October, 2016; and November, 2020. Court documents show two separate assault charges for incidents in August, 2014, and October, 2016, including against an Indigenous woman.

Thunder Bay Police Service media relations officer Sgt. Julie Tilbury said in a statement that “the officer is now on leave as per the Police Services Act” and that the charges are deeply concerning. According to the act, he would be suspended with pay.

The OPP has been investigating the Thunder Bay Police Service since February, 2022, months after Ontario’s Attorney-General asked the provincial force to investigate complaints filed to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. The Thunder Bay police service has long faced accusations of systemic racism and complaints that the deaths of Indigenous people were not adequately investigated.

Sgt. Dimini has been named in several complaints filed to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission since 2021. Two veteran officers filed complaints to their superiors outlining allegations of misconduct against Sgt. Dimini in a November, 2020, call for service including illegal entry, wrongful arrest and falsifying a report. The two veteran officers said they faced retaliation from the now-former police chief and her also now-former lawyer Holly Walbourne, with whom Sgt. Dimini was also alleged to be having personal relations, according to the complaints.

Last year, the commission announced its own investigation findings into the senior ranks and charged the former police chief Sylvie Hauth with discreditable conduct and deceit for her role in an investigation into former police board chair Georjann Morriseau. Ms. Hauth retired months ahead of schedule and weeks before her Police Services Act misconduct hearing was scheduled, essentially cancelling the charges. Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes and former lawyer Ms. Walbourne were also investigated but allegations against them were unsubstantiated.

Thunder Bay’s top cop says racism won’t be tolerated

Deputy Chief Hughes had been suspended by the board for a separate internal human resources matter in January, 2022, and was allowed back to work earlier this year after an investigation by the Toronto Police Service. The board said that report substantiated two allegations against Deputy Chief Hughes, both related to “breaches of the requirement for confidentiality arising from the improper disclosure of police information” to senior Thunder Bay officers, and to an “external peer deputy chief of police.”

In the spring of 2022, the province appointed an administrator to oversee the board and its decisions, the second time since 2018. And just this spring, the board hired new police chief Darcy Fleury, a Métis RCMP veteran from Manitoba, after a recommendation by an expert panel of policing and governance experts who said the job should go to an Indigenous or other racialized person.

Karen Machado, the chair of the city’s police board, declined to comment on the specifics of the case but said the charges are concerning.

“We strongly support and join Chief Fleury’s efforts in maintaining public confidence and transforming the culture within the Service,” she said in a statement.

Two high-profile reports by the province in 2018 revealed systemic racism heavily ingrained within the ranks and its board. Dozens of sudden death investigations of Indigenous people have been flagged for reinvestigation because of the level of negligence and incompetence in cases marred with discrimination.

Earlier this year, the lead investigator in the 2015 death investigation of 41-year-old Anishinaabe Stacy DeBungee was demoted after he was found guilty of discreditable conduct and neglect under the Police Services Act. Sgt. Shawn Harrison failed to treat Mr. DeBungee’s sudden death investigation equally to others because of an unconscious bias against Indigenous people, his guilty verdict determined.

Sgt. Dimini’s next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9, 2024, in Thunder Bay.

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