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Friday, May 28, 2010

O'Sullivan files complaint - Belleville police chief promises full review

May 28, 2010
Luke Hendry, The Intelligencer

Retired boxer Shawn O'Sullivan has filed an official complaint against the Belleville Police Service, The Intelligencer has learned.

Bill Reid, O'Sullivan's Toronto lawyer, told The Intelligencer Thursday he filed the complaint earlier that day with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), an arm's-length branch of Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General.

"I will always believe in the force because there will always be a need for a force to uphold justice," Belleville's O'Sullivan, 48, said Thursday.

But he said police used excessive force in arresting him Nov. 28, 2009 and he's concerned that it could happen to others. "If they do it to me and get away with it, they will do it to everyone," he said. "If it will come to pass that these police will get reined in a bit or walk a different walk, then that would be great."

Neither Belleville Police Chief Cory McMullan nor OIPRD staff could confirm the complaint had been made; each cited they couldn't talk about specific cases because of privacy law.

Both agencies, however, pledged a full review of the complaint.

O'Sullivan, a Toronto-born 1984 Olympic silver medallist, was on a quest for his stolen championship rings when he entered the yard of a Belleville resident and they scuffled.

Charges of assault and mischief against O'Sullivan were withdrawn May 13 after he agreed to enter a peace bond ordering him to stay away from the resident. O'Sullivan said he felt vindicated.

Police and O'Sullivan agree an officer shocked him with a Taser or similar high-voltage weapon before arresting him.

Reid said the shock doesn't appear to have caused lasting injury but the "degree of violence" used in the arrest lingers.

"My knees kill me now," said O'Sullivan.

Reid said his client now descends stairs backwards to avoid some of the pain. O'Sullivan has seen a doctor about his injuries, Reid said.

Police said he was combative and "physically resistant" with officers. O'Sullivan denies that report vehemently, saying he was trying to talk with them when shocked.

"I don't resist," he said. "Had I resisted they would be in hospital still. These bastards, they're not police -- they're thugs with badges," he said, though he stressed the remark is limited to his arresting officers, not the entire city force. "There's a lot of great guys I know on that force," he said.

"The police just moved too quickly," Reid said. "I think good policing means listening a little to the other side first."

"If you don't investigate further it just turns the complainant into the police," he said, adding officers "acted like judges" on the night in question and used the Taser needlessly. Talking with O'Sullivan would have led to a different result, he said.

Chief McMullan said she couldn't comment directly on the case. "I can't comment on whether a complaint has or hasn't been filed," she said. "Mr. O'Sullivan and his lawyer are free to state whatever they wish to state. The police service is not," McMullan said. "If there's a complaint made ... we'll make sure that it's fully investigated and a report will be filed with the outcome, but I can't comment specifically on the information that you have," McMullan told The Intelligencer.

She said commenting would identify the person publicly as someone complaining about police. "We don't want that to be a deterrent," she said.

Allison Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the OIPRD, said the agency takes up to 10 days to ensure a complaint falls under its mandate. Conduct complaints take on average 90 days to investigate, she said.

Complaints can be probed by either the local police service, another police service or the OIPRD.

The local police chief is given a copy of the complaint; the officer in question receives an edited version. Regardless of who investigates, that agency must rule whether or not a complaint is substantiated. Substantiated complaints are deemed serious or less serious, said Hawkins. A complainant can appeal the decision of a police chief.

"If it's retained by our office our decision is final," said Hawkins. "Decisions are only made public if they go to a disciplinary hearing," she said.

Reid said he was commenting on the case only because interviews were requested. O'Sullivan isn't complaining out of a desire for media coverage, he said. Reid said the concern about use of force should be addressed. "If it's swept under the carpet that doesn't help anybody." He added O'Sullivan has "other avenues" to address his concerns outside the OIPRD complaint process and that a civil lawsuit against police is "still a possibility."

O'Sullivan said he would seek financial compensation.

Reid, though, said the OIPRD process "is a really good way of redressing this issue" and he and O'Sullivan will watch it unfold. "This may be all that's required."

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