There is a fascinating case in Ontario, Canada this week. Levi Shaeffer, 30, was shot dead by Peterborough police officers when he was camping near Pickle lake. He had not committed any crimes and was simply camping on an island. However, an investigation was terminated because the officers involved in the shooting did not write down contemporary accounts of the shooting after meeting with counsel. Chief Murray Rodd, however, insists on the department website that “[w]e are truly dedicated to our core values to be the best Police Service, providing the highest standard of professionalism in partnership with our community.” They might want to start with writing down accounts of shooting campers.
Special Investigations Unit director Ian Scott said that it was impossible to proceed with any criminal investigation because the accused officers waited before they wrote up their notes — which were drafted with the assistance of counsel.
On June 24, 2009 at approximately 12:30 p.m., two OPP officers encountered Schaeffer and asked him about a stolen boat. After some sort of altercation, one of the officers shot Schaeffer. In the United States, the officer would have had to immediately prepare a shooting report. However, in this case,
“[s]hortly after the incident, the subject officer was instructed not to write up his notes in his memo book until he spoke with Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA) legal counsel. The association lawyer advised the officer to prepare notes which only he would review. Once the lawyer approved the notes, the officer wrote up his memo book two days later based on a combination of his confidential notes to counsel and discussions with him. The only witness to the shooting, the second officer, was also advised not to contemporaneously write up his notes in his memo book. He too wrote up a set of notes which he shared with the same legal counsel before entering them into his memo book two days later. Neither officer provided the SIU investigators with their first set of notes.
Without contemporary notes, the investigation has been dismissed — a curious incentive for officers involved in controversial shootings. The investigation was terminated despite the family’s complaint that the police gave it wildly different accounts of the shooting.
I am a strong believer in the right to counsel. However, I find it unbelievable that an officer can withhold an account of a shooting in Ontario and not be terminated or suspended on that basis. The officer clearly has a right to be protected from self-incrimination and has a right to speak with counsel. However, as an officer, you must supply contemporary accounts or face suspension. Otherwise, you are withholding evidence of a possible crime. The officer must make the choice.