Ottawa police officer resigns after mocking, filming people with mental illness

·5 min read
Ottawa Police Service Const. Jesse Hewitt was hired in December 2017. (GoFundMe - image credit)
Ottawa Police Service Const. Jesse Hewitt was hired in December 2017. (GoFundMe - image credit)

An Ottawa police officer who used his badge to abuse and mock vulnerable people with mental illness on video, and then circulated those videos among other cops, has resigned from the force, CBC News has learned.

Const. Jesse Hewitt's resignation is effective today, according to a family court decision and multiple police sources with knowledge of his disciplinary case.

In the decision, which was released last week, Superior Court Justice Darlene Summers wrote that Hewitt resigned from the force in August, which he had told her court, but such a resignation would only take effect today.

His resignation ends his employment on the public dime, but also his police disciplinary hearing.

Pleaded guilty to 10 counts of misconduct

In June, Hewitt pleaded guilty to 10 counts of misconduct under the Police Services Act, including nine counts of discreditable conduct and one count of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority. The final charge is for kicking down a door and illegally arresting a woman.

The guilty pleas came more than a year after serious allegations of misconduct began to publicly surface against Hewitt.

Hewitt admitted to 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.

The videos at the centre of the investigation were made from December 2018 to June 2019, and Hewitt took the photograph of the man in September 2019. In that time he distributed the image and videos to other police officers "in order to ridicule subjects involved."

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 Hewitt had "one deployment to Libya from March to July 2014" as a military police officer.

He had no incidents requiring discipline while in the military. After his hiring by the Ottawa Police Service, Hewitt was diagnosed with PTSD, according to a family court decision from 2020.

Hewitt was sworn in as a police officer in 2018 and he was deemed eligible for independent patrol in September of that year. Just two months later, Hewitt recorded the first of the known videos on his personal cellphone while a woman was in police custody.

His probationary period as a constable ended on May 6, 2019. 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.

GoFundMe
GoFundMe

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 cellphone. 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.

Ottawa police previously said it was notified of the existence of the videos in February 2020, but according to the agreed statement of facts read out at his guilty plea to the misconduct offences, 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 disciplinary probe, investigators found 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 he took 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," a police prosecutor said at the time.

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 "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 with pay 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.

His disciplinary hearing was scheduled to continue in November for sentencing, but that won't happen now that he has resigned.

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