As Ontario Police Services Act (PSA) hearings continue against three Orangeville police officers, town taxpayers have been footing a bill of $435,097, spread over a period of two years.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request reveal that was the cost of legal fees and expenses incurred during the prosecution of Sgt. Curtis Rutt, Cst. Stephen Fisher and Cst. Peter Curtis between May 9, 2010 and May 18, 2012.
The costs include the cost of hearings officers and assistants, legal representation and miscellaneous related costs.
The cases involving the three OPS officers have yet to be resolved, leading one experienced individual to speculate the costs might rise to as high as $1 million.
“It will hit a million, if it’s allowed to,” said Paul Bailey in an interview. Mr. Bailey was president of the York Region Police Association for 14 years, followed by two years as head of the provincial association and then by service in a similar role with the Region of Peel.
He said he is familiar with hearings cases that have stretched to the point where legal costs to a municipality have reached the seven-figure mark.
Having monitored the Orangeville situation, Mr. Bailey said “the Orangeville Police rank and file are terrific. They’re doing a great job with what they have and they don’t have much.”
He did comment, however, that it “has been an abuse of taxpayers’ money to continue this witch hunt.”
Sgt. Rutt has been on suspension since March, 2011. In the meantime, he has received his $102,000-per-year salary. Constables Fisher and Curtis are also being paid.
The FOI figures show no dramatic fluctuations in salaries paid to front-line officers from 2010 to 2011 and half-way through 2012; allaying concerns that pay could soar as officers work overtime to compensate for those on paid suspension.
Sgt. Rutt has faced a series of charges that began, coincidentally, about the same time he filed a Section 25(1) request under the PSA for an outside investigation of conditions within the OPS.
At a March 17, 2011 hearing, he was found not guilty of PSA charges related to his conduct during a 2009 domestic disturbance call.
The day before the ruling, a fresh set of charges was laid against him; this time concerning an incident in April, 2010.
Further charges were pressed against Sgt. Rutt, of which he has made a motion to have dismissed.
After two postponements due to late disclosures of prosecutorial evidence, A hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 8, 9 and 10.
Morris Elbers, the hearings officer, spoke at the last hearing on May 29 and said: “I want to make it abundantly clear that we will not leave Orangeville until it’s completed.”
After a lengthy series of hearings stemming largely from an unflattering parody of the OPS he posted on a private blog, Cst. Fisher pled guilty to two counts of disreputable conduct.
As a result, he was demoted to secondclass constable for a period of one year and took a $6,700 annual pay cut.
Cst. Fisher returned to work and was suspended again on January 12. On May 23, he was formally charged, under the PSA, with two counts of discreditable conduct, one of insubordination and two of deceit.
He is scheduled for a hearing, via teleconferencing, on July 24.
Cst. Curtis was on sick leave for about 18 months before reporting back to work near the end of May. He was suspended the same day and faces four charges of discreditable conduct and one of breach of trust.
Orangeville Mayor Rob Adams, who also sits on the town’s Police Services Board, said in an interview: “I’m certainly going to be reviewing the cost, because it has a direct impact on the taxpayers.”
He added that “it’s unfortunate that individuals and issues have cost the service a lot of money and it concerns me that taxpayers have to pay.”
From a Police Services Board standpoint, Mayor Adams said that the board is legally obliged to give the green light to a hearing whenever charges are laid against an officer under the PSA.
Mr. Bailey, on the other hand, said he has experienced a number of instances where, in his opinion, municipal police boards seemed to have forgotten that police chiefs are employees of a police service board and not in charge of it.
As well, he implied the current attitude of the OPS management in this matter was based on vindictiveness, rather than justice.
“Suck it up,” he suggested, “and don’t end up spending $500,000 to $800,000 of taxpayers’ money just to get back at somebody.”