Charges dropped against Hamilton-area journalist after police confrontation

Charges dropped against Hamilton-area journalist after police confrontation

Charges have been dropped against a local freelance journalist who was arrested at the scene of a tense Waterdown crash in May after a negotiated settlement with Crown prosecutors.

But a journalism advocacy group says it's still filing a police commission complaint over how police treated the journalist at the accident scene.

Dave Ritchie, a Burlington freelance videographer, won't face trial on charges of resisting arrest and obstructing a peace officer. The Crown dropped those charges in court on Tuesday.

Instead, Ritchie reached an agreement with the Crown to do 12.5 hours of community services and donate $250. He also has to keep the peace for a year.

Ritchie accepted responsibility for his part in the incident, lawyer Nadir Sachak says. But he had no criminal intent, did not enter a plea, and the Crown didn't pursue the charges.

"He was not found guilty," Sachak said. "He was not convicted, nor did he receive a record for that alleged offence."

In a release about the outcome, Hamilton police, however, state Ritchie "caused a breach of peace" when he refused an officer's request to leave the scene and asked for his camera — which the officer had put in his cruiser — to be returned.

It's a confusing end to a case that's raised questions about press freedom, police relations with the media and what happened on May 16.

Ritchie, who attends dozens of emergency scenes every year, went to a crash scene on Evans Road where a 10-year-old girl was hit and killed by a vehicle.

Ritchie has said previously he was standing with other members of the public when an officer approached him and told him reporters were scumbags.

Const. Jeffrey Todoruck picked up Ritchie's camera off the grass and put it in his cruiser. Then he handcuffed Ritchie and put him in the cruiser as well. He also arrested a Global News reporter, but that reporter was released without charges.

'Well back from police lines'

The Hamilton Police Service media release Tuesday said: "During the investigation, (Todoruck) directed Ritchie to leave. Ritchie refused, requesting the return of his video camera, which had been stored in the officer's cruiser."

Duncan Pike, campaigns and advocacy co-ordinator with the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), calls that wording "disingenuous." It offers no explanation, he said, why the officer even took Ritchie's camera.

Had the case gone to trial, Sachak said, the matter of why Ritchie's camera was taken would have been "very heavily litgated."

The CJFE is calling for the Ontario Civilian Police Commission to investigate further, Pike said.

"He had a right to be there, well back from police lines," he said.

Chief was reviewing the matter

"He underwent a lot of legal fees and stress dealing with this in the first place, and it's unacceptable."

Hamilton police declined to answer any questions about the settlement and directed further questions to the Crown attorney. 

Chief Eric Girt said in May that he'd review the incident, but Tuesday police also declined to comment on the results of that review. In the media release, the service said it would "continue to work collaboratively with our media partners in order to deliver public safety in our community."

Sachak said the resolution doesn't hinder Ritchie from doing his job, which involves selling footage to numerous media outlets, including CBC News.

CBC is seeking comment from Ritchie and the Crown's office.

Correction : This article was amended to state that the settlement was reached with Crown prosecutors and not with Hamilton police, as was originally written.(Oct 17, 2017 5:18 PM)