A Nelson police constable convicted of assault has been sentenced to 30 days house arrest and one year of probation.
Cst. Drew Turner was convicted in September of assaulting Tawny Campbell in May 2014. The incident led to a trial in which it was revealed Turner, while off-duty and backing up a fellow officer, punched Campbell in the face, knocking her unconscious. Three fellow officers testified against him.
During the 30-day conditional sentence (house arrest) period, Turner must:
• report regularly to a supervisor,
• remain at his current address,
• not change his address or phone number without permission,
• not contact Campbell directly or indirectly or her mother and not go to their residence, school or workplace,
• remain in his home at all times unless with permission of the supervisor, except for a medical emergency or to meet basic needs between 2 and 4 p.m. each day.
Similar conditions apply during the probation period. Turner must also attend counselling as directed by his probation officer.
It was reported in court that Turner has been attending counselling since December 2014.
Prosecutor Debra Drissell asked that Turner provide a DNA sample and be prohibited from owning firearms, but Judge Richard Hewson declined those requests saying Turner is not a danger to society.
A range of possible sentences
Possible sentences for a summary conviction assault, according to the Criminal Code, range from absolute discharge to a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail.
Based on the legal submissions of Drissell and defence lawyer John Green, Hewson’s sentence is within the range of sentences typically given in Canada to similar offenders committing similar offences in similar circumstances.
In her submission, Drissell asked for 14 to 30 days in jail, followed by 12 months probation. Green asked for a discharge.
Character references and apology
Hewson said he had been presented with a number of character references for Turner from people in the community, and that Turner wrote a letter of apology to Campbell last month
Drissell said the letter was too little too late, and that up to that point Turner had shown no evidence of remorse. Hewson, however, said he would accept the apology at face value.
The judge said police officers have a high standard to uphold.
“Police officers are the visible representation of the rule of law in the community,” he said. “We teach our children to go to them if they need help. We give them a status commensurate with their importance. When a police officer breaches the public trust and engages in an illegal activity, even if off duty, it undermines the public confidence in the police and the rule of law.”
Hewson said mitigating circumstances in the matter were that Turner acted in the heat of the moment in a chaotic situation, is recognized by many people as a good citizen and family member, faces the loss of his job, and has suffered a loss of reputation in the community.
Explaining why he was giving a conditional sentence rather than jail time, Hewson cited Turner’s strong relationship with his family and friends who will support him, his stable residence in the community, and his apology letter.
The chief’s response
In a news release, Nelson police chief Wayne Holland responded to the sentence.
“On Sept. 1, I respectfully accepted Judge Richard Hewson’s finding of guilt against this officer and today, I acknowledge the sentence imposed.
“The incident in question has been extremely stressful for everyone in our community. I am mindful of the public’s interest and desire for this enquiry to come to a timely conclusion and for me to ensure that a fair and appropriate outcome is achieved.”
Turner has been on desk duty since he was charged. It’s uncertain whether he’ll be able to keep his job because another investigation is still to be completed by the Office of the Police Complaints Commission, an internal police investigation and discipline body.
Holland originally reported the incident in May 2014 to the complaints commissioner by Holland, who in turn asked the professional standards branch of the Vancouver Police Department to conduct an investigation to see if Turner had violated the Police Act.
At some point in their investigation, the Vancouver police decided an assault charge would be appropriate and referred the case to Crown counsel, who agreed. At that point the complaints commissioner’s investigation was suspended until after the conclusion of the criminal matter.
That matter is complete as of sentencing Tuesday, so the complaint commissioner’s process will now resume. Its process is so confidential that we don’t know exactly what the issues are or how long it will take.
According to Holland, the complaints commissioner will eventually reach some conclusions and recommendations, but when it comes to actual disciplinary measures, the matter comes home to Nelson because the designated discipline authority is the local police chief. Holland can pass that authority on to someone else, however, and that may happen in this case because Holland is retiring in January.
The range of discipline
Internal discipline for officer misconduct can be anything from mild reprimand to dismissal. Whatever discipline is decided by the discipline authority, the police complaints commissioner has to agree with it.
“Until I have received and reviewed all of the available material pertaining to this file,” Holland wrote in his release, “it would be inappropriate for me to comment on either the Police Act or criminal court processes. Nor am I able, at this time, to draw any final conclusions with regard to the eventual resolution of this matter or this member’s future with the Nelson police.”
Holland told the Star if the discipline authority comes to a decision and the accused doesn’t accept the decision, the office of the complaints commissioner must hold a disciplinary hearing, presided over by the discipline authority. The accused person pleads his case, and the discipline authority decides whether to change the decision.
If dismissal is recommended, the local police board (the employer of the officers) has to agree.
City paid Turner’s legal bill
Turner’s legal fees will be paid by the local police board — in effect, by the City of Nelson. This is not automatic: the Police Act states that a municipal police board may pay the fees if it choses to, which in this case it did. According to Holland, the police board could attempt to recoup the fees from Turner at a later date if it wishes to. The total bill is as yet unknown.