Public hearing for VPD sergeant accused of sexual misconduct by officers and students

VICTORIA — A sexual misconduct investigation into a veteran Vancouver police officer who also teaches criminology was spurred by anonymous comments on a social media post, the Office of the Police Complaint Commission in B.C. says.

The office announced Wednesday that it had called its first ever public hearing, into allegations of sexualized misconduct against Sgt. Keiron McConnell who has been an instructor at several post-secondary institutions while serving in the Vancouver Police Department.

McConnell, a Vancouver police officer for 33 years, is accused of misconduct toward seven women, including fellow officers and former students at Royal Roads and Kwantlen Polytechnic universities.

The office says the allegations have not been proven, and McConnell did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

A notice of hearing detailing the allegations says the probe was launched after a photo of McConnell was posted on social media in late December 2021.

The notice says "unknown persons" commented on the post that McConnell was a "sexual predator," and the next month a female officer handed Facebook messages from McConnell over to the VPD professional standards section.

The officer said the 2018 messages started out "as friendly but progressed to what she felt were inappropriate and sexual," the notice says.

It says she didn't report it at the time because of McConnell's "rank and status" and she believed there would be consequences for her at the VPD.

The commissioner ordered an investigation in April 2022 and heard from three former students of McConnell's at Royal Roads University. They alleged he sent inappropriate or sexual electronic messages to them while enrolled in his courses between 2015 and 2017.

One said McConnell invited students out for drinks in November 2016, but she "became increasingly uncomfortable" with how he acted around her, the notice says.

She said that after she decided to leave, McConnell followed her into a taxi uninvited and tried to kiss her after blocking her from getting out of the vehicle, the notice says.

Another student alleges she became uncomfortable after receiving text messages from him on her personal cellphone, and didn't know how he got her number.

A third student alleged that McConnell sent her Facebook messages in 2018 that "included euphemisms for sexual terms."

That student worried that McConnell would "speak negatively" about her to police recruiters unless she responded to his messages, and she "ultimately changed her mind about becoming a police officer, which she attributed to her experience with Sgt. McConnell," the notice says.

The commissioner's office also heard from a student from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, who alleged that McConnell sent her "sexually inappropriate messages" in 2017 and 2018.

After she graduated, the woman alleged McConnell sent her a message "that she interpreted as him seeking a sexual act from her," the notice says.

The notice says the office also heard from two subordinate female police officers who worked with McConnell.

One alleged he had made "sexualized comments" both in person and in text messages between 2015 and 2018.

The other claimed he "made repeated sexualized and inappropriate comments to her" in late-night social media messages, that included "fantasies about her engaging in sexual acts with him at his desk."

The notice says McConnell admitted during the investigation to sending some messages, but he said they were intended to be private "and were exchanged between consenting adults."

"McConnell maintained that, had the recipients of these communications told him to cease, he would have done so," the notice says, adding that he denied engaging in discreditable conduct.

In a statement, the commissioner's office says it determined that the nature of the allegations merit the office's first public hearing following legislative changes that cleared the path for such inquiries earlier in the police discipline process.

The office says the commissioner noted that using a power imbalance for a sexual purpose not only harms those directly affected, but also negatively impacts the integrity of policing and the public's confidence in police.

The office says it has appointed retired provincial court judge Carol Baird Ellan to preside as adjudicator in the proceedings and determine whether McConnell committed misconduct.

The hearing dates have not yet been confirmed.

Asked to provide comment, Kwantlen Polytechnic University confirmed that McConnell was an instructor at the institution, but said it could not provide more information due to privacy legislation. It said it expected all employees to follow its code of conduct, including its sexual misconduct policy.

Royal Roads University did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

— By Darryl Greer in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press