By Lethbridge Herald on July 14, 2020.
Lethbridge Police Service Chief Scott Woods said unauthorized surveillance on then provincial cabinet minister Shannon Phillips is embarrassing and inexcusable.
Woods said temporary demotions of officers Jason Carrier and Keon Woronukare are considered to be on the high end of punishment in a statement released Tuesday following a story by CHAT News on Monday which revealed the results of a recent police disciplinary hearing.
“The actions for which these officers — Sgt. Jason Carrier and Cst. Keon Woronuk — were disciplined cannot be excused,” Woods said in the statement. “The fact that they admitted to the charges of misconduct indicates that they acknowledge this reality. But acknowledging the wrongdoing does not take away the embarrassment and shame that has been brought upon the LPS by their actions, nor does it mitigate the justified anger and profound disappointment of Ms. Phillips and others in our community who have a right to expect so much better from their Police Service.
“To paraphrase a general comment I made earlier this summer, while these officers have indeed failed in their duties, that failure does not reflect the values and duty of the Police Service to the community. Our challenge as a service is to continue pursuing those values and that duty in spite of the human frailties and shortcomings displayed by these officers.”
Carrier and Woronuk admitted that in April 2017 they had not been authorized to watch then-environment minister Phillips while she met with people in a diner to discuss a new park in the Castle region. The plan included restricting off-road vehicles in the environmentally sensitive area.
Hearing notes say both officers had a shared interest in off-roading there.
Woronuk was demoted from senior constable to first-class constable for two years, and Carrier was reduced in rank to senior constable from sergeant for one year.
While disappointed in the actions and attitudes of the officers, Woods said he does take consolation in knowing they have been held accountable and that the LPS took the initiative in referring the matter for investigation. The misconduct was investigated thoroughly by an outside agency, outside counsel was then retained to vigorously prosecute the charges and an experienced, well-respected retired senior officer from another service was appointed to preside over the discipline hearings.
“The sanctions that were imposed against the officers were, to use the words of the Presiding Officer, ‘significant and on the high end of what may be considered appropriate.’”
“The two officers have been sanctioned for their individual misconduct, but all of us in the Police Service will bear the consequences,” Woods continued. “It now falls to us to regain the trust of the community that has been lost as a result of their actions. Our challenge, as police officers, is to carry on, striving to demonstrate the principled, bias-free policing that our service should represent and that our community expects and deserves.”
Phillips, now the Opposition NDP legislature member for Lethbridge-West, said the two officers should be fired. She said the matter goes to the heart of trust in police and that an independent outside investigator needs to be brought in.
“People across this city will wonder, if they are pulled over or otherwise subjected to an interaction with law enforcement, whether that’s on the up and up,” Phillips said in an interview.
“It’s puzzling to me that law enforcement, whether they are police associations, whether they are police chiefs, or others, would want to allow that erosion of public trust to continue because it gets in the way of their doing their job.”
Lethbridge Police Association vice-president Mike Darby also released a statement Tuesday, noting that contrary to what some media have reported, although there was an intention by one of the cited officers to conduct a targeted enforcement, MLA Phillips was never followed.
“The 30-page penalty decision circulating in the media was written by a retired Superintendent of the Calgary Police Service who has a plethora of knowledge and experience in police discipline. This same presiding officer has not hesitated in the past to dismiss police officers (terminate employment), where the circumstances were warranted. The presiding officer speaks at length in this decision about the sanctions set upon the cited officers and why they are appropriate,” said Darby.
“Although police officers are held to a higher standard by the public, occasionally errors in judgment are made. Accountability is an important characteristic for a police officer. Both cited officers have been co-operative throughout the process and take full responsibility for their actions. This aberration is not a reflection of the membership as a whole. The members of the Lethbridge Police Association are committed to professionalism and serving the community.”
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer has directed the province’s police watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, to determine if there are grounds for a criminal investigation.
“We have to get to the heart of it,” Schweitzer told the house during question period. “Our democracy is founded on the independence of people having the freedom to live their lives.
“Our police have an immense amount of power in our lives. They have to do it reasonably. They have to do it within the boundaries of the law.”
The disciplinary hearing’s agreed statement of facts, posted by CHAT News, indicates that Carrier was on duty but on a meal break on April 17, 2017, when Phillips entered the Chef Stella Diner to meet with stakeholders about changes to the Castle region.
Carrier texted Woronuk, and soon after Woronuk arrived at the restaurant.
The document says the officers took photos of the meeting and, before they left, Woronuk said to Carrier that he “would hate to see Phillips drive away from the restaurant and there was a reason to stop her.”
Woronuk was also involved in setting up surveillance, then followed one of the stakeholders while running a police information check on them.
Carrier had left the restaurant, stationed himself at a nearby parkade with a view of the diner, but left after seeing Phillips depart on foot.
With files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press