Consider taking the cops to court

The process isn’t easy, but lawsuits
might be our best hope for keeping police
and private security accountable


“The only effective check on police misconduct, in my experience, is the civil justice system,” writes lawyer Cameron Ward. After a group of arrogant, abusive Vancouver cops illegally arrested him and had him strip-searched, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner dismissed his complaint. The courts finally vindicated Ward eight years after the arrest. Despite the time and trouble, he concluded: “Staying silent is not an option. When our rights as citizens in this democracy are violated, we must stand up and fight for them.”

One of transit constable Walter Rossa’s tantrums went further than usual when he smashed Christy Joyce Logeman in the face with a flashlight. Nevertheless his employer promoted the notoriously unstable SkyTrain cop to sergeant with the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service. When Logeman’s lawsuit came to court, Rossa and his partner Ken Dorby proved themselves to be serial liars. The judge and jury saw through the cops’ crap and awarded the victim $40,000.

In another case, a Vancouver police internal investigation claimed that six cops did nothing wrong when they gave an innocent man a broken nose, cuts and a ruptured spleen. But a judge disagreed, awarding the victim $94,000.

Two other Vancouver cops were ordered to pay their victim $13,000 after a judge found them liable for assault, battery and false imprisonment for beating up a man and arresting him without reasonable grounds in 2007.

In West Vancouver, a lengthy campaign of police harassment brought no more than a verbal reprimand from the OPCC. Undeterred, the cops continued their harassment until the victim, Don Sipes, sued them. He won. When a power-tripping North Van Mountie tried to get revenge, Sipes launched a second lawsuit. (July 25, 2012 update: Sipes wins again, this time a hard-fought victory over North Vancouver RCMP when B.C. Supreme Court overturned an obstruction conviction.)

Mike Stebih wanted to see some ID from two plainclothes cops who pulled him over and demanded his driver’s licence. Victoria police constables John Musicco and Jennifer Young not only refused, but they yanked him out of his vehicle, handcuffed him on the ground, searched his van and repeatedly called him dirty names. That was no big deal to the OPCC, which called for a one-day suspension. But Stebih sued and, in an out-of-court settlement, got an undisclosed sum of money and an apology from VicPD for false arrest, false imprisonment and assault.

North Vancouver RCMP Cpl. Lesley Norman quickly escalated a conversation with Jeung Ki Park at Lions Gate Hospital and, with the help of other cops, she took him to the floor in front of his ailing mother. Park was then held in custody without charge for four hours. It took six years, but a provincial court awarded Park $15,000 for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.

Vancouver police chief Jim Chu has nothing but praise for Bryan London and Nicholas Florkow, the two plainclothes thugs who hammered on Yao Wei Wu’s door at 2 a.m. and beat the shit out of him. But the innocent victim filed a lawsuit. Notwithstanding Chu’s consistent support for this act of gratuitous violence, the VPD settled out of court.

Even on those very rare occasions when the OPCC does suggest a penalty, it’s insignificant. A Victoria cop got a mere three-day suspension for an assault that caused permanent injuries. But the victim’s lawsuit brought changes in police procedure as well as a financial settlement.

(I stopped updating this page years ago. But this May 2014 story’s too good to omit.) Vancouver police Sgt. Gregory Kodak says VPD Const. Alison Hill assaulted him. He’s suing her, his own force, the police board and VPD Chief Const. Jim Chu.

Of course there’s no guarantee of success. Court action can be an onerous process involving time, money and likely the stress of reliving a traumatic incident. Linda Bush dropped a lawsuit nearly five years after her son Ian was shot and killed inside the Houston, B.C., RCMP detachment. Ms. Bush cited an enormous financial burden as well as the emotional cost of legal action. She continues, however, to advocate for reform.

The complaint process, whether for the RCMP, B.C. municipal police or B.C. security guards, too often protects those guilty of misconduct. Despite a lot of talk over the last few years, no one in the federal or provincial government, or in the opposition parties, wants to do more than tinker with a broken system. Unfortunately that might leave lawsuits as our best hope of achieving accountability.

Postscript: This article encourages victims of police misconduct to consider lawsuits but cautions that they can be expensive with no guarantee of success. I’ve stated elsewhere on this site that I can’t give legal advice. Nor do I recommend lawyers. However I do strongly warn people against the Pivot Legal Society, especially Pivot poverty pimp lawyer Doug King.

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