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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

EDITORIAL: Public airing would clear odour around case

January 11, 2011
Belleville Intelligencer

The odour surrounding boxer Shawn O'Sullivan and his run-in more than a year ago with Belleville police is beginning to be, if not yet foul, at least a little bit funky.

Police arrested O'Sullivan on Nov. 28, 2009 following a scuffle with a neighbour. Charges of mischief and assault against O'Sullivan were withdrawn May 13 after he agreed to a six-month peace bond preventing him from contacting the man.

During his arrest, O'Sullivan was shocked by a Taser. But the Olympic silver medallist insists he was also beaten by police and, contrary to police reports, did not resist arrest.

O'Sullivan's lawyer, Bill Reid, filed an official complaint May 27 with Ontario's Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) which then forwarded it to city police for review. Following the internal review, Belleville Deputy Police Chief Paul VandeGraaf ruled O'Sullivan's complaint was "unsubstantiated."

The OIPRD, which then reviewed the report submitted by Belleville police in September, held that Belleville police investigators' conclusion was not unreasonable.

Reid called the OIPRD findings "interesting" but not "surprising."

He said the ruling indicates the OIPRD's "hands are tied" in that they seem to be saying it is not their mandate to rule if VandeGraaf made the correct decision.

Our concern is that while neither VandeGraaf nor the OIPRD are saying the officers involved did anything wrong -- and we aren't saying that either -- neither are they giving ringing endorsements about their innocence.

And that unfortunately leaves the aroma that maybe something just isn't right here.

O'Sullivan can still appeal the ruling at the divisional court, or he can file a civil lawsuit against the Belleville police. But both these options cost considerable time and money.

Had, however, the initial investigation been held publicly and openly, the questions circling about this issue, while maybe not entirely cleared up, would at least be aired in a way that people could make their own determination.

The argument against that is it would parade the officers involved in front of the public and possibly tarnish their names, despite the fact there had not been a determination of wrong-doing.

However, the alternative is leaving the same tarnish, aided by speculation brought on by the process which keeps all such information sealed.

Those charged by police with crimes get their day in court when they get to tell their side. Both the public and police would be better served by a system that allowed for the same when it is the police whose actions are being questioned.

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