Dozens of officers from across Ontario busted for drunk driving in last five yearsMore than 60 officers from the Ontario Provincial Police and the five GTA police forces — Toronto, Peel, Durham, York and Halton — have been disciplined for drinking and driving before internal police tribunals since 2010.
Around last call on Dec. 27, 2009, staff at Aw Shucks oyster bar in Aurora sent drunken police officer David Stilo home in a cab.
Once he was out of view, Stilo, a York Region detective, got out of the taxi and returned to the bar parking lot and his Chevy Tahoe, according to an agreed statement of facts filed in his police disciplinary hearing.
Heading home, he crashed into a cable guardrail, taking out five of its posts and one of his own headlights.
He kept driving.
Wesley Bullard and his fiancée, Dawn Mills, were driving when they saw a single headlight approaching them. They thought it was a snowmobile. It was actually Stilo’s truck barrelling towards them in their lane.
They collided head-on, Stilo’s SUV rolling up and then over onto the passenger side of their Mazda sedan.
The couple was rushed to hospital, Bullard with a fractured tibia and shattered right knee that would keep him in a wheelchair for almost three months, Mills with fractured feet, according to their victim impact statements filed at Stilo’s disciplinary hearing.
When paramedics arrived at the scene, the 25-year police veteran was chewing a large wad of gum and was swaying and slurring his words.
Stilo is one of dozens of officers the Star found who has recently been busted for drinking and driving, a serious offence police forces say is a top priority to combat.
More than 60 officers from the Ontario Provincial Police and the five GTA police forces — Toronto, Peel, Durham, York and Halton — have been disciplined for drinking and driving before internal police tribunals since 2010.
Many of the officers were also found guilty of criminal charges, rendering them unable to perform their duties on the road for an average of two years because of licence suspensions and other restrictions.“If you’re caught for an impaired driving offence, you should no longer be a police officer,” OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes told the Star.
“Drinking and driving is something that is very public and someone needs to make the decision to get into the vehicle and drive when they have been drinking. I just think there is no excuse for that.”
Despite numerous bulletins from police brass reminding officers that turning their vehicle into a 5,000-pound weapon will not be tolerated and penalties “may include dismissal,” the Star found only one case where an officer — a serial drunk driver — was told to resign or lose her job.“We are missing the mark”
After Toronto Staff Sgt. Keith Smith, who was found in 2007 in a ditch passed out behind the wheel with an open bottle of vodka, was criminally convicted of having “care or control” of a vehicle with a blood alcohol level that was three times the legal limit, the force’s prosecutor sought to have the officer fired.
The penalty should “send a strong message ... that officers will be held accountable for their actions” the prosecutor noted, asking, “How can he now be a role model to anyone he supervised?”The Star attempted to contact all officers named in this series of articles. Some spoke. Most did not. The information comes from tribunal decisions unless otherwise specified.
Testifying in his own defence at his 2011 disciplinary hearing, Smith described a long history of using alcohol to cope with events like the deaths of his parents and a colleague.
He was demoted to the lower rank of sergeant for one year.
Almost every year since the early 2000s, Ontario police chiefs and commissioners have issued bulletins to their rank and file talking about how the force — and the public — is increasingly intolerant of drinking and driving, especially by officers.
Yet the number of officers brought before the tribunals each year for the crime, the number one criminal cause of death in Canada, remains almost unchanged.“Despite the clear message by the OPP to its members that drinking and driving is an inexcusable offence for police officers, it remains the reason for too many disciplinary hearings,” Supt. Kevin Chalk wrote in his 2012 decision to hand out a six-month demotion to OPP Const. Bradley Charette.
At the disciplinary hearing, Charette’s lawyer maintained the officer is a good cop and a good man who made a very poor decision.
While off duty in 2007, Charette slammed into the back of a truck in a Sault Ste. Marie intersection, sending one person to hospital with a head injury. The veteran constable failed two breathalyzer tests and was charged with careless driving, a provincial offence. At trial, the breathalyzer readings were excluded as evidence due to problems with the investigation.
In the end, Charette pleaded guilty to failing to turn to avoid a collision.
“Let me be clear that drinking and driving, by either uniform officers or civilian employees, cannot be tolerated,” wrote former OPP commissioner Julian Fantino in a 2009 memo. “The OPP’s image and reputation are adversely affected by the unacceptable actions of a few. In our ongoing efforts to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on our roads, trails and waterways, we must lead by example.”
Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair sent out a similar memo in 2007: “What is most worrisome is that some of our members are being arrested and charged for the very offences they have sworn an oath to prevent, investigate and prosecute,” he wrote. “The citizens of Toronto must be confident that this Service will not tolerate ... drinking and driving by its own members.”
Since that missive, however, Toronto police have doled out the most lenient penalties to officers caught drinking and driving — an average of about 20 days docked pay.
The other forces almost always demote their officers, often for at least 10 months.
Penalties against Toronto cops who drink and drive have slowly risen since the late 1990s, when officers were docked as little as four days pay.
In 2014, Supt. Debra Preston, presiding over the disciplinary case of a Toronto sergeant caught drunk driving, lamented that the “current standard of punishment” wasn’t deterring other officers from getting behind the wheel drunk.
“If the objectives of discipline truly are to correct unacceptable behaviour, deter others from similar behaviour and ensure the public that the police are under control, then we are missing the mark in terms of deterrence of others for similar behaviour as our members continue to appear before the tribunal for similar charges,” Preston wrote.
The officer was docked 20 days pay.
Union representatives and lawyers who have defended cops disciplined for drinking and drinking say we must take into account extenuating circumstances, like using alcohol to self-medicate stress from the job. In the vast majority of cases the officer’s have made a “one-off” mistake, they say.
“If we wanted to be really forward thinking about this, we’d be addressing the causes of why police officers are drinking,” says defence lawyer Peter Brauti.
Toronto police union head Mike McCormack said fewer of their officers are getting charged. Four officers have been arrested for drinking and driving in the past two years, he said.“We are on the same team”
Sitting in the back of a police cruiser in 2008, Toronto Const. Jeffrey Wilson stared at the fellow officer who had just arrested him for drunk driving.
“Come on man, can’t you give me a break? We are on the same team,” said Wilson, according to an agreed statement of facts from his disciplinary hearing, which also notes he apologized at the station for causing embarrassment to the Toronto police.
The arresting officer had found an open can of beer in Wilson’s vehicle.
In 2010, Wilson was criminally convicted of driving over the legal limit and slapped with a $1,000 fine and prohibited from driving for a year. Three years later, his force docked him 20 days pay after a disciplinary hearing into the matter.
Wilson is one of at least four officers who tried to use their positions to dissuade a fellow cop from arresting them. At least another 10 officers, pulled over under suspicion of impaired driving, identified themselves as police or showed their badges and ID cards.
Toronto cop Rabie Kazzouh was pulled over on the Queen Elizabeth Way after blazing past a marked OPP vehicle in 2009. The OPP officer smelled alcohol on Kazzouh’s breath and demanded he take a breathalyzer. He failed and was arrested.“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,” Kazzouh told the officer. “This is not cool. There were other ways to deal with this. You could have towed my car and driven me home.”
He was charged with operating a motor vehicle over the legal limit, but was acquitted due to a successful charter argument.
Kazzouh pleaded guilty to the misconduct at the police tribunal in 2012 and forfeited 16 days pay. “Get in your car and leave,” he said when approached by the Star for his side of the story.
Critics question whether camaraderie amongst police officers means that even more cases of cops drinking and driving go unreported.
In 2009, a Toronto rookie constable faced internal retaliation after he charged an off-duty Halton cop, Const. Breton Berthiaume, with impaired driving.The rookie, Const. Andrew Vanderburgh, was called a “rat” and “harassed and berated” by fellow officers, according to a pretrial ruling in the criminal case against Berthiaume, who was ultimately convicted of impaired driving.
Vanderburgh’s partner that night refused to take part in the arrest. Afterward, Toronto Const. James Little pulled over Vanderburgh, who was in a squad car, and ticketed him for allegedly running a red light. The charge was later thrown out. A witness told investigators that it was Little who ran the light with his emergency lights on while following the young officer.
“He abused his position to express his personal displeasure about his colleague’s arrest of an off-duty police officer,” said the presiding officer in Little’s subsequent 2011 disciplinary tribunal, in which he was docked 20 days pay.
When reached at home, Little suggested there was more to the story than was included in the agreed statement of facts submitted at his disciplinary hearing.
“I’m not going to comment any further on what happened. It’s water under the bridge as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
In Durham, Const. Tim Wray left his post at a RIDE check, set up to catch impaired drivers over the 2012 Christmas holidays, to pick up a colleague who drove after drinking and flipped his vehicle into a ditch. He took his colleague back to a bar. The colleague, Const. Richard Robinson, later tried to mislead investigators, saying he hadn’t driven his car and suggested it may have been stolen.
Robinson, who apologized for his misconduct and pleaded guilty at a disciplinary hearing, was demoted for four months.
Wray lost three days pay.
In 2013, Toronto Const. Adam Morris reported off duty and headed to an industrial parking lot, where he downed several drinks. He still had his gun on him when a York Region officer found him pulled over on Hwy. 400.
Morris told the officer he was a cop and he had not been drinking. But he failed a breathalyzer test.
He was arrested and taken back to a station, where York officers seized his gun. He took two more breath tests: one showed he was exactly at the legal limit; the other showed he was over it. The officers then released him with no criminal charges. Instead, he received a three-day driving suspension.
“The decisions of certain members of the York Regional Police Service not to proceed with criminal charges against Const. Morris should in no way detract from the seriousness of this misconduct,” the prosecutor told the disciplinary hearing in 2013. The Toronto officer apologized for his actions and told the hearing it would never happen again. He was docked 18 days pay.
York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe said in a statement that the criminal charge was “no longer viable” because one of the readings was not actually over the legal limit.
“In all of the circumstances, we are confident that our officers discharged their duties appropriately in this matter,” he said.“Can’t trust them anymore”
At the crash scene, a passerby had to kick in York Region Det. Stilo’s windshield so he could get out of his own mangled vehicle.
Stilo initially told paramedics he had not been drinking and told the first police officer at the scene that the other car was the one that swerved into his lane.
A “mostly empty” bottle of vodka was found in his truck. Several hours after leaving the bar, he failed multiple breathalyzer tests.
Stilo pleaded guilty to impaired driving in court in 2011. He was prohibited from driving for a year, ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and complete 125 hours of community service.
He also pleaded guilty at the police tribunal in 2011, where a senior officer handed him a one-year demotion to second-class constable with the chance to earn back his rank.
When asked for an interview, Stilo refused to comment. “That was a long time ago. I have nothing to say about it,” he said.
But the crash still reverberates in the victims’ minds.
“Due to this I have lost a lot of respect for police officers,” Wesley Bullard said in a victim impact statement filed at Stilo’s disciplinary hearing.
“It’s their responsibility to enforce the laws of our country, and to see that even some of them break those laws, I feel like I can’t trust them anymore.”http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015 ... otect.htmlhttp://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/59 ... k-driving/http://www.thespec.com/news-story/59216 ... ive-years/