Five former Toronto drug-squad police officers convicted in June of attempting to obstruct justice and perjury all deserve penitentiary terms because their crimes "strike at the root of justice," their sentencing hearing was told Monday.
"Honesty and integrity on the part of the police is a cornerstone of the administration of criminal justice," lead prosecutor Milan Rupic told the court, and the misconduct in this instance was "deliberate and choreographed."
The drug squad team was led by John Schertzer, 54. The other former members are Nebojsa (Ned) Maodus, 49; Joseph Miched, 53; Raymond Pollard, 48; and Constable Steven Correia, 45, the only one of the five to remain on the police force, suspended with pay.
All five were convicted of attempting to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum 10-year penalty. Mr. Maodus, Mr. Pollard and Constable Correia were also found guilty of perjury, which can bring 14 years What became known as the "dirty cops case" has lasted more than 15 years, cost many millions of dollars, left careers in ruins and sullied Canada's biggest municipal police force.
The five defendants sat at tables with their lawyers Monday afternoon and listened to Mr. Rupic's remarks, which will continue Tuesday, followed by defence submissions. A handful of grim-looking off-duty police officers also attended the hearing, which is likely to last several days.
Mr. Rupic urged sentencing judge Madame Justice Gladys Pardu of Superior Court to give Mr. Schertzer a four-year term, and to sentence the other four defendants to three years apiece.
Trying to obstruct justice and perjury – lying in court – in this case were "two sides of the same coin," Mr. Rupic said, and the offences become worse when committed by police officers because they are often so hard to detect.
Collectively, the defendants' misconduct constitutes a breach of trust, he said, and "normally a police officer will receive a greater punishment than a civilian who had committed a comparable crime."
In his submissions, Mr. Rupic also rebuked the Toronto police union for "minimizing and sanitizing" the crimes of the five in letters to its membership.
"The seriousness of this case has not been accepted by… the Toronto Police Association," he said.
The five defendants belonged to the Central Field Command drug squad. At trial, a jury that was plainly skeptical of some prosecution evidence acquitted them of extortion, theft, assault causing bodily harm and conspiracy.
The jurors listened to 30 witnesses, including several drug dealers, and viewed hundreds of exhibits. But in the end all the convictions flowed from the warrantless search of a small-time heroin dealer's Scarborough apartment, and the cover-up that followed.
The events date back to 1997, when drug squad officers arrested two suspects and searched their homes without warrants. After years of legal manoeuvring, they and a sixth former drug-squad member finally went to to trial in 2007 on a host of charges.
But in 2008, trial judge Mr. Justice Ian Nordheimer declared that all the charges would be stayed because the "glacial pace" of the proceedings, which had lasted several years, had denied the defendants their constitutional right to a reasonably speedy trial.
The prosecutors appealed that decision, however, and in a 2009 ruling the Ontario Court of Appeal mostly agreed with them, concluding that given the complexity of the case, the delays were not unreasonable.
Charges against the sixth defendant were stayed, but the charges against the other five were resurrected and a new, five-month trial ensued, resulting in the eight convictions.