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Police who tethered Victoria girl to get slap on wrist

Willow Kinloch claims she was assaulted and unlawfully confined while in police custody in 2005.

Globe files/Globe files

Two police officers accused of abuse of authority in the jailing of Victoria-area teenager Willow Kinloch five years ago will receive no more than a written reprimand for their role in the controversial incident.

That provision was among a handful of agreed-to statements submitted Thursday at a Police Complaint Commission hearing into the detention of Willow, a 15-year-old who was handcuffed and tethered to her cell after police arrested her for public drunkenness on May 6, 2005.

It's alleged that Constables Ryan O'Neill and Brian Asmussen kept Willow in a jail cell when "her incarceration could no longer be justified according to the law," according to documents submitted at the hearing.

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The two officers were also accused of using unnecessary force, failing to monitor Willow's well-being and neglecting to notify child welfare "when her parents could not be located."

However, lawyers agreed to drop those allegations in return for an admission of guilt on the charge of illegally detaining Willow, a breach that would have had a maximum penalty of a 30-day suspension under B.C.'s Police Act.

Adjudicator Allan Filmer noted that the officers were directed to take Willow home after her initial arrest, but returned the intoxicated teen to the cell blocks when they couldn't locate her parents at the address she provided.

There is no dispute that Willow acted aggressively after her return to the detachment or that Constables O'Neill and Asmussen bound Willow's ankles, handcuffed her and tethered her to the door of a padded cell for four hours, Mr. Filmer added.

Given the single allegation before him, Mr. Filmer, a retired provincial court judge, said the hearing will focus on whether "there was an unlawful abuse of authority in the fact that she was not released" prior to the tethering incident.

In 2008, Willow was awarded $60,000 in a civil lawsuit alleging that police used excessive force.

In February of 2009, based on the findings of a Vancouver Police investigation into the incident, Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham declared that allegations of misconduct against his officers were unsubstantiated.

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Thursday's hearing was ordered by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner in response to complaints filed by Willow and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The proceedings ground to a halt shortly before noon when commission lawyer Bradley Hickford and defence counsel David Butcher could not agree on which version of the Police Act should apply to the case.

Changes introduced this spring include harsher disciplinary measures for officers, said Mr. Butcher, insisting that his clients are subject only to regulations that existed at the time of the incident.

Mr. Hickford argued that the revised Police Act is meant to be "applied retroactively."

Frustrated by the lack of progress, Mr. Filmer ordered the two lawyers to provide him with detailed written arguments and adjourned the proceedings until Sept. 28.

Willow's case is one of several high-profile incidents that prompted Mr. Graham to order a sweeping internal review of the Victoria Police use-of-force practices and policies last month.

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