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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Accused Edmonton cop walks on technicality

May 28, 2008
Elise Stolte, The Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Disciplinary charges were tossed out on a technicality Tuesday against a police constable accused of using a Taser on two sleeping men.

The same technicality -- resulting from an expiry date missed by a single day -- threatens charges in 11 other disciplinary cases against officers, said acting Insp. Chris Boehnke of the Edmonton police professional standards branch.

Two cases were already thrown out May 1, but at that time the branch thought it was an isolated problem. "The extent of the problem just became apparent today," Boehnke said on Tuesday.

Const. Jeffrey Resler was charged with six counts of unnecessary exercise of authority and using a Taser and hitting three men in their Cromdale Hotel room in 2003. Four officers were looking for a robbery suspect that November night.

In his initial report to professional standards, Resler said he used his Taser to wake the men up because he thought they were dangerous. A supervisor reported him.

Resler was found not guilty in provincial court in 2006 when the judge found testimony given by witnesses offered starkly different accounts of what happened.

An internal disciplinary hearing related to the same incident started April 25.

On Tuesday, Resler's lawyer, Alex Pringle, noticed a one-day lapse in the extension orders granted to investigating officers by the Edmonton Police Commission. City police officers who are investigating other officers are granted an initial three months to build their case and must apply to the Edmonton Police Commission for any extensions if they need more time.

The time extension ran out on April 18, 2006, and was not renewed until April 19. The police commission may be able to correct the problem by passing retroactive extensions and reopening the files.

The charges against Resler weren't the first to be thrown out. On May 1, charges against two other constables were dropped because of the same gap. One was charged with discreditable conduct for allegedly threatening to "end" the complainant. The other was accused of using inappropriate force.

"It's obviously disturbing when basic things such as a statute of limitation are missed," said Brian Hurley, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association, when he heard the news.

"If the police expect the public to have confidence in their disciplinary proceedings, they need to be handled better than that."

Brian Gibson, chairman of the police commission, said the mistake happened because a staff member thought the commission was meeting on the 18th instead of the 19th, when the extensions were written.

The mistake affected charges against 62 officers. Three had their charges cancelled at their hearing. Nine officers are still being investigated. The rest of the cases have been closed without charges.

Gibson said legal counsel is looking at the problem and will report back at the commission meeting on June 19.

At the hearing Tuesday, presiding officer Supt. Mark Logar said he had no choice but to declare the charges null.

"When that gap occurs, jurisdiction is lost," he said.

"Hopefully we are back soon, but that is not my decision to make," he added. "The constable is interested in closure. The complainant is similarly interested. ... (Citizens) have every right to know what happened.

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