Officer who kicked Black teen might have used excessive force, watchdog says

·3 min read
Officer who kicked Black teen might have used excessive force, watchdog says

TORONTO — A police officer may now have to face a disciplinary hearing seven years after a Black teenager accused him of brutality, Ontario's police oversight agency decided in a case that set off a bruising years-long legal battle.

In a new decision, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director found evidence exists to suggest Toronto Const. Chris Howes used excessive force during the incident in April 2014.

"I find there are reasonable grounds disclosed during the original investigation to believe misconduct may have been committed," Stephen Leach, the independent police review director, said.

The case arose when 19 officers, acting on a tip about a firearm, smashed in the front door of the Stanley family home. Howes rushed upstairs to where brothers Yasin and Faye Stanley were.

Legal documents show Howes kicked a prone Yasin Stanley — there's a dispute over whether he was handcuffed — in the head at least once. Ultimately, police found no weapons and charged no one.

In March 2015, then-review director Gerry McNeilly found evidence of “serious misconduct” against Howes. McNeilly referred the matter to Toronto’s police chief for a disciplinary hearing.

However, a senior police officer complained investigators had made a significant mistake regarding a statement from Howes, who had said he was reacting to a threat Yasin Stanley posed. McNeilly had mistakenly said Howes saw no threat.

Without telling the family, McNeilly reopened the investigation, then dismissed the allegations against the officer, prompting a court fight.

In its look at the case, Divisional Court rapped the watchdog for the secretive, back-channel chats with police. It ordered a fresh investigation, prompting the director to appeal.

The Court of Appeal then ruled McNeilly never had the power to review his initial misconduct finding. However, the appellate court also said new rules now granted the director that authority. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to intervene.

In his ruling this week, the current director said it was in the public interest to take another look. After doing so, Leach said, there were still grounds to uphold the initial finding of wrongdoing.

"Despite the error in the original report, there are reasonable grounds to believe misconduct occurred," Leach said.

It's now up to Toronto's chief of police to decide whether the alleged misconduct was serious, in which case a tribunal hearing would be automatic. If the chief does not deem it serious, the two sides would have the chance to try to resolve the matter.

Selwyn Pieters, the family’s lawyer, said on Thursday Howes should face a hearing:

"Despite the fact that seven years has elapsed, justice requires that a full public hearing takes place in this matter and be adjudicated on its merits, and a decision be rendered with respect to whether or not Officer Howe violated the code of conduct."

Howes' lawyer Lawrence Gridin called the latest director finding a "fresh absurdity." His client, he said, had done nothing wrong and was considering his legal options.

"They've decided to ignore all the evidence from the second investigation, pretend it didn't happen, and on that basis reinstate their first flawed determination that there is possible misconduct," Gridin said. "The OIPRD has lost all credibility in this case."

The case also sparked controversy in Hong Kong in 2019 after McNeilly was appointed to advise the territory’s Independent Police Complaints Council. McNeilly later admitted he had not told the council about the controversy over his handling of the Stanley complaint.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press