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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

One Officer Charged, 16 More Under Investigation in Small City Police Force

Abbotsford Police Department spokesman Const. Ian MacDonald speaks to reporters
about the investigation into a number of officers for offences under the Police Act
A constable with the Abbotsford Police Department in British Columbia, Canada is facing criminal charges and 16 other officers are under investigation for allegations related to the integrity of statements used in a number of criminal cases to obtain search warrants.

Const. Christopher Nicholson has been charged with  breach of trust, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to traffic a controlled substance, the Office of the Police Complaints Commission (OPCC) said in a statement released Wednesday.

Nicholson was arrested and charged in May 2013, but the OPCC said disclosure of the charges was delayed until now in order to complete a number of "sensitive investigative steps." The officer has been suspended without pay.

At a news conference Wednesday, Abbotsford police Chief Bob Rich said the probe started after information was received that a police officer was supplying information to a drug dealer so the dealer could avoid being arrested.

"In the fall of 2012, two of our members came forward and said they thought we had a problem with one of our members and their integrity showed that day, and we immediately took their concerns seriously and ended up asking Vancouver [Police Department] to take on an investigation into the conduct of Const. Nicholson," Rich said.

Abbotsford, PD
The chief pointed out that the investigation into the other 16 officers is for alleged misconduct under the Police Act, not the Criminal Code.

"We have a large number of members under investigation under the Police Act. I need you to understand that if I did not have confidence in the integrity of these members, I would have suspended them. I have not done that," he said.

Vancouver Police Department Chief Jim Chu said his force's eight-month investigation determined an Abbotsford police officer was supplying false information to other officers in order to obtain search warrants for private homes.

"He [Nicholson] also allegedly conspired with a confidential informant to have drugs delivered to a residence and have other police officers conduct a search warrant soon after," Chu said.

Court cases may have been compromised

The OPCC said the Vancouver Police Department investigation uncovered further allegations of misconduct against 16 other members of the Abbotsford Police Department, which has 217 officers.

It also determined many of the allegations against officers deal with the information provided to judicial officials in order to obtain search warrants.

The Office of the Police Complaints Commission says it's trying to determine whether prosecutions were compromised by unreliable search warrant information.

​"Furthermore, what remains an active concern to the OPCC is the extent to which the search warrants in issue may have contributed to potentially unsafe prosecutions," said the statement.

The OPCC said it has not been able to adequately determine the extent to which prosecutions may have been compromised "due to the lack of adequate disclosure from the police."

It said that delay is due to legal impediments arising from the complexity of the case and the sheer magnitude of investigative materials.

"Several investigations have been suspended pending the disclosure of the investigative materials in order to ensure that the related criminal proceedings are not prejudiced," said the OPCC statement.

After he was charged in May 2013, Nicholson made his first appearance in B.C. Supreme Court in July. His trial date has been set for May 26, 2016, and his next scheduled court appearance is Aug 28.

The OPCC will release a summary of its final report on the investigation to the public once its probe is complete.

This is a shocker to me. As a resident of Abbotsford, I have great respect and admiration for the city police. It's a bit shaken now, but with men like the two who came forward, it should not be shaken for long.