May 25th, 2024

Professional conduct hearing results in police guilty pleas, intentions to resign

By Lethbridge Herald on November 3, 2021.

Herald file photo

Alejandra Pulido-Guzman – LETHBRIDGE HERALD

A professional conduct hearing on Tuesday for five Lethbridge Police officers has resulted in three guilty pleas to misconduct charges under the Police Act and Police Service Regulation, while two intend to resign from the force.

Tuesday’s hearing at the Galt Museum was in regard to a 2018 incident involving the alleged creation and distribution of memes determined to be offensive and against LPS policies, which became known at the time as “MemeGate”.

Sgt. Jason Moulton, Const. David Easter and Const. Matt Rilkoff were in attendance while Const. Keon Woronuk and Const. Derek Riddell were excused. 

Sgt. Jason Moulton who previously pleaded not guilty to all charges, pled guilty to two counts of discreditable conduct, one count of insubordination and two counts of neglect of duty. One additional count of insubordination and one count of discreditable conduct were withdrawn.

Moulton was also charged with one further count of discreditable conduct which reads “That you engaged in discreditable conduct, contrary to s. 5(1)(e) of the Police Service Regulation, as defined by section 5(2)(e)(ii) of the Police Service Regulation, by using oppressive or tyrannical conduct towards a subordinate;” to which he pleaded not guilty. 

Those proceedings were adjourned to Dec. 15, where evidence will be heard on the contested count and facts will be entered in relation to the guilty pleas.

Const. David Easter and Const. Matt Rilkoff both entered guilty pleas on two counts of discreditable conduct and one count each of insubordination and neglect of duty. One additional count of insubordination and one count of discreditable conduct were withdrawn for each. 

During the hearing, when listing aggravating factors in relation to their charges, Kelly Nicholson, outside legal counsel retained to prosecute the officers on misconduct charges, stated that they had seen nothing in the way of remorse until Tuesday when they changed their pleas and that their “attitude was cynical if not arrogant.” 

A joint submission proposing a demotion within a rank of two levels of seniority, which would result in both constables being demoted from senior constable level 2 to first class constable with a reduction of pay that would amount to approximately $15,000 for one year, was put forward. Presiding officer Paul Manuel reserved his decision until Dec. 16. 

Police conduct in Alberta is governed by the Criminal Code of Canada and Alberta’s Police Act and Police Service Regulation. There is a range of potential disciplinary outcomes in cases of misconduct, including changes to policy and training, reprimand, demotion, pay deductions, suspension and dismissal.

Proceedings in relation to Const. Keon Woronuk and Const. Derek Riddell were adjourned to Feb. 3, 2022, as they both indicated they plan to resign, which would result in a loss of jurisdiction. This adjournment was necessary to allow time for that process to be completed. 

The hearing which took place on Nov. 2 was in relation to a matter from 2018, where a private chat group was created in WhatsApp under the name “Meme Militia” where texts memes and gifs were distributed to LPS officers within the group. The communications, which were found to be offensive and against LPS policies, were described in an agreed statement of facts as “profane, abusive and insulting” and targeted the LPS Executive, other officers, and society in general. A sealing order has been in place on those communications and will not be lifted until all matters are resolved. 

Following an internal complaint, the matter was referred to an outside agency for investigation and LPS received the findings in late December 2020. After a thorough review, outside legal counsel was retained to prosecute the officers on misconduct charges. 

Jay McMillan, president of the Lethbridge Police Association, in an interview with the Herald said he would reserve some thoughts until is everything has been concluded.  

“But what I can say is that this has been three years in the making, so I think everyone is very pleased that we are at the point we are at, where we can get some resolutions in place and have the opportunity for everybody to just move on. So, today was a big part of that in getting this concluded and everything dealt with appropriately.”

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