An Ottawa police officer who mocked people with mental illness who were in his custody then circulated videos and photographs via text with other officers, has pleaded guilty to 10 counts of misconduct.
Const. Jesse Hewitt pleaded guilty Monday morning to nine counts of discreditable conduct and one count of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority under the Police Services Act. The final charge is for kicking down a door and illegally arresting a woman.
The guilty pleas come more than a year after serious allegations of misconduct began to publicly surface against Hewitt.
Hewitt was charged with recording six women and photographing one man "for unauthorized purposes," all of whom were in police custody at the time. At the time of the recordings, two of the women had been apprehended under the Mental Health Act.
Hewitt made the videos that are known to misconduct investigators from December 2018 to June 2019, and took the photograph of the man in September 2019. In that time he distributed the photograph and videos to other police officers "in order to ridicule subjects involved."
During a teleconference appearance Monday, Hewitt responded, "Guilty, sir," to each of the 10 counts on which he was arraigned.
Hired in 2017
Hewitt was hired in December 2017 after seven years serving in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as a military police officer.
The CAF previously said that as a military police officer, Hewitt had "one deployment to Libya from March to July 2014."
He had no incidents requiring discipline while in the military. After his hiring by the Ottawa Police Service (OPS), Hewitt was diagnosed with PTSD, according to a family court decision from 2020.
"Of note," police prosecutor Louise Morel said Monday, "Const. Hewitt was provided with and completed all mental health training available to him at the OPS."
Hewitt was sworn in as a police officer in 2018. His time with a coach officer ended in September of that year when he was deemed eligible for independent patrol. Just two months later, Hewitt recorded the first of the known videos on his personal cell phone while a woman was in police custody.
His probationary period as a constable ended on May 6, 2019. Just five days later, he took a "selfie" with a man in custody while he was sitting in the back of the cruiser, without the man knowing.
At the time of the offences Hewitt was a patrol officer with west division's "A" platoon.
Allegations came to light in May 2019
In February 2020, the service's anti-misconduct unit received an email from a staff sergeant in the force with five videos attached. Those videos showed women apprehended under the Mental Health Act or who were in police custody. All were recorded by Hewitt while he was on duty as a police officer, but using his personal cell phone. None of the people in the videos knew he was filming them.
Hewitt shared the videos with other police officers through WhatsApp and text messages, Morel said.
The OPS previously said that it was notified of the existence of the videos in February, but according to the agreed statement of facts the service was actually aware of the contents of the videos in May 2019. Investigators only received the videos and watched them in February.
From February 2020 until the date of his suspension, Hewitt was partnered with a senior member of his platoon.
During the police probe, investigators found that Hewitt also took selfies with people in custody while in the sally port — where officers park their cruisers while waiting to take people who are in custody into the police cell block.
In his interview with investigators, Hewitt admitted that he took approximately eight to 10 videos or photos of people in custody.
"Constable Hewitt confirmed that the videos were not taken for evidentiary purposes. He conceded that he took the videos to mock or laugh at the people in them," Morel said.
When police asked how he chose his subjects, Hewitt told officers: "It was never gender-oriented. It was just that those situations, like certain things were being said. Whoever the individual was at the time was, like, just going crazy in the back of the car and insane, like ridiculous. And I just pressed record, right."
Admitted to 'egging people on'
Hewitt described his behaviour in the videos as "egging people on" and saying things to get a rise out of them.
In one video, a woman in the back of his cruiser tells him that her handcuffs are too tight and that she can't breathe. He tells her that if that were the case, she wouldn't be able to call him an "asshole" or a "bastard." The videos, as described in the agreed statement of facts, depicted people who were in distress or agitated.
In another video, taken after officers responded to a woman running in the middle of the street, Hewitt records through the rear passenger window of the cruiser while two other officers are on scene.
He pans the camera to another officer, identified as Const. S. K., who says, "Jesse, what is it with you?" The officer is laughing at the time.
In September 2019, another officer witnessed Hewitt take a picture of a suicidal woman at hospital and text it to someone unknown. The woman was wearing red-and-black flannel. The text on Hewitt's phone screen that he flashed to the other officer read "sexy plaid vs. bush."
Hewitt was suspended in May 2020, the day after a news reporter asked the service for comment on the ongoing investigation, which hadn't been publicly revealed at the time.
He was suspended with pay. He remains one of 13 OPS officers currently suspended with pay. No date has yet been set for his sentencing.