Friday 12 November 2010

Police investigating police. Does it work? (Part 5)

A home invasion took place in Mississauga, Ontario in 2002. Some people were arrested and pleaded guilty. They implicated others, including Quang Hoang Tran, who surrendered to police in Hamilton, Ontario on March 27, 2003.

Tran and other alleged gang members were suspected of terrorizing two families, including sexually assaulting a woman by placing a gun in her mouth and vagina, carving a dollar sign into a man’s back, and pushing an 8-year-old girl down and telling her to “say goodbye to her parents.”

Constable Vander Wier and his partner, John Conway, both of Peel Regional Police drove to Hamilton, where Tran had surrendered to police in that city. According to testimony by Conway later at Tran’s trial, they had little evidence against Tran other than the allegations in a co-accused’s statement.

The following is an account of what happened according to transcripts from Tran’s original trial and the appeal court ruling that overturned his conviction. During the drive from Hamilton to Mississauga, the Peel detectives tried to get a statement from Tran, who invoked his right to silence. One detective told him if he did not speak “it’s going to be the hard way.” As Tran sat handcuffed to a chair in an interrogation room, at police headquarters in Brampton, Const. Will Vander Wier sucker-punched him, breaking his jaw in two places.

Tran later filed a complaint with the SIU (Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit) The SIU cleared the Peel Region police officer and Tran was subsequently convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery.

But the seven-year-old case was turned on its head last spring when the Court of Appeal for Ontario threw out Tran’s conviction because, in the words of Justice Gloria Epstein, the Peel officers “beat him up” and “attempted to cover up their shocking conduct by destroying evidence, lying to fellow officers and perjuring themselves before the court.” The court’s ruling in June outlined a flawed justice system in the Tran case — from the SIU to the prosecutor’s office — that allowed Const. Vander Wier to go unpunished.

The ruling prompted the SIU to reopen the case. Vander Wier was later charged with assault. At the time of this writing, his case is still before the courts. Wier, because of his recent charge, has been temporarily moved off the front lines to the Peel police IT department.

In the Tran case, a man accused of vicious home invasions has now gone free because there was what the appeals court called “police brutality” during the interrogation of the accused.

At the police station, he was shoved and punched by both detectives, Tran testified at his trial. He said he was dragged along a metal railing and his head was slammed into a door. He said detectives told him he would be made to “feel how the (home invasion) victims felt” if he did not cooperate.

According to the appeals court ruling, the detectives put Tran in an interview room that was not equipped with a video camera. Vander Wier punched Tran in the ribs and the jaw. Tran’s jaw bled “profusely.” The detectives gave up on their attempt to get a confession and moved him to an interview room that had a camera, trying to get him to say he hit his chin on the table. “Have you been treated improperly?” Conway asked Tran on the video recording. “Have we been treating you fairly?”Tran stared at the floor and kneaded his fists. Conway continued, “You feeling okay? You said your stomach’s not feeling good? Not too long ago you were on the ground.”

The version given by Vander Wier and Conway, when questioned later, was that Tran hurt himself by falling to the ground when he was alone in the room. However, expert testimony heard at trial supported Tran’s version of events. The expert said Tran’s jaw, broken in two places, was “consistent with a blow to the jaw, not a fall. ”Tran’s jaw had to be wired shut and to this day he suffers from migraines.

Tran’s trial lasted four months in 2005, including a lengthy portion devoted to the assault in the interrogation room. After the assault, the detectives cleaned the blood, which Justice Epstein said was an attempt to “conceal their misconduct.”The trial judge further ruled that Tran had been beaten by police. In his 2006 verdict, the trial judge convicted Tran of conspiracy to commit robbery and sentenced him to 14 months in jail. However, he was found not guilty of robbery, the more serious charge.

Tran appealed his conviction. Justice Epstein, after reviewing the case, said the misconduct in the case that started with the police assault continued into Tran’s trial. Despite the trial judge’s ruling that there was “overwhelming” evidence of police beating Tran, Crown attorney Stephen Laufer still asked the judge if Vander Wier could sit with him at the prosecution table to prepare witnesses. I should add that is generally an acceptable practice in Canada but since Wier’s role in this case was definitely wrong, he should have merely been a witness and not someone to assist the prosecutor. For this reason, trial judge said no and banished both Vander Wier and his partner to the hallway during the trial. The Crown unfortunatwly allowed Vander Wier to prepare witnesses outside the courtroom. Another mistake.

At the appeals hearing, Justice Epstein said that decision was wrong. She described Laufer’s attitude toward Vander Wier’s brutality as “cavalier,” even approving of such abuse. Epstein said the Crown’s conduct was “evocative of an alignment with police.”

Justice Epstein also took issue with the SIU investigation into Tran’s allegations of police brutality. The SIU director at the time, John Sutherland, had decided not to charge Vander Wier or his partner. That dummy later became a judge. That is proof that even a fool can be appointed as a judge.

Epstein stated in her ruling.“There is no evidence of any effective response to the police brutality here. The SIU did not do its job. Nor did the oversight agency.” said the appeals court judge. She chastised SIU for keeping its with reasons for clearing Consts. Vander Wier and Conway from the public except to say the decision was “confidential” and “justified.”

The Toronto Star found that the SIU did not issue a media release about the incident in 2003, and the public was not informed. The agency does not tell the public about half of the cases it takes on. That in my opinion is very wrong because it has the stink of secrecy.

After the SIU decided not to lay a charge, Tran, 24 at the time, went before a court to persuade a justice of the peace to lay a criminal charge against Const. Vander Wier. The justice of the peace agreed with Tran and issued the charge of assault causing bodily harm against the officer.

But Tran did not show up for a court appearance (which might be because he wasn’t informed of the date in which he was to appear) and the Peel Regional prosecutor’s office, which works closely with Peel police officers such as Vander Wier, withdrew the charge. They did not provide any reasons for doing so, said Peter Zaduk, Tran’s lawyer. This happened to me when I filed a charge against a man who assaulted me. I wasn’t informed of the trial date and the case was dismissed. The crown attorney later apologized to me for that oversight.

Epstein’s blunt language caught the attention of current SIU director Ian Scott. In July of this year, (2010) he reopened the case and charged Vander Wier with aggravated assault. Conway on the other hand was not charged.

Seven years later, Tran still has trouble chewing without biting his tongue, suffers from chronic jaw pain, loose teeth and migraines. As serious as his injuries are, there have been instances when police brutality far exceeded what that man went through but that is stuff for another article in the future.

My real concern is how police officers try to cover up their crimes against suspects and the agencies that are supposed to investigate these complaints are in bed with the officers complained about. I guess it is hard for a bed-mate to get a good look at his or her other bed-mate when the latter is so close.

If Const. Wier had not brutalized Tran while questioning him, Tran would have had to serve the 14 months in prison. It's ironic when you think about it. Const. Wier was supposed to get evidence from a suspect he believed was guilty and instead, his abuse of his authority resulted in a guilty man going free.

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