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VicPD constable the ‘fall guy’ in corruption scandal, former officers claim

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A former police board member and two retired officers are accusing the Victoria Police Department of letting one of its constables take the fall for a corruption scandal.

VicPD became embroiled in controversy last week when news broke the department allowed Const. Robb Ferris to work on a major drug case while he was being investigated by the RCMP for obstruction of justice and breach of trust.

After Ferris was arrested on June 18, 2020, a court record states investigators tried to conceal his involvement with the case, which resulted in a $30-million bust. As of Jan. 19, all charges were stayed in the case, dubbed Project Juliet.

Investigators misled Crown prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges into believing the investigation began on June 23, 2020, according to a decision by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Murray.

Only one of the VicPD officers named in Murray’s decision, recently retired Const. Kim Taylor, is being investigated under the Police Act for allegations of discreditable conduct and neglect of duty.

“If that investigation basically concludes that the constable was guilty and that’s the end of it, that would be a travesty,” said former Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board member Paul Schachter, who filed a Police Act complaint against the department late last week.

“It really does seem that Const. Taylor… is being set up to be the fall guy.”

Schachter and two former VicPD officers allege supervisors within the department would have — or at least should have — known about any alleged efforts to conceal Ferris’s involvement in the drug trafficking investigation.

“Not only did police not mention the first investigation (involving Ferris), they obscured it,” Murray’s decision reads.

“Nowhere in the 347-page RCC (report to Crown counsel) is there reference to any investigative steps taken by VicPD prior to June 23, 2020. Nor does it mention Mr. Ferris’s misconduct.”

A retired VicPD officer said Taylor, the file coordinator and primary investigator, likely authored the report, but a higher ranking officer should have approved it. File coordinators assess and collate investigative materials.

“There’s no way that RCC would’ve gone to Crown on Kim Taylor’s approval only,” the former member, who CTV News is calling Jamie, said in an interview.

“She’s being forced to eat this.”

Both of the retired officers quoted in this story spoke on the condition of anonymity, due to concerns about future reprisal.

“It’s so obvious that the person who is the file coordinator is not really the one responsible for that file,” said another retired member, who CTV News is calling Alex.

“They’re not the team commander of that file,” Alex said.

B.C.’s provincial policing standards state the team commander is “the person to whom overall authority, responsibility and accountability for an investigation are conferred.”

‘Who was approving it?’

The team commander sits at the top of what police call the “command triangle.” In Project Juliet, it was Sgt. Jeff Lawson, who has since been promoted to inspector, according to a LinkedIn post by VicPD.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) initially ordered an external investigation into Lawson, in addition to Taylor, according to Murray’s decision. His name was removed from the investigation order when Insp. Colin Brown, the head of VicPD’s professional standards section, told the OPCC that Lawson had not been involved in the investigation after November 2020 and was not involved in any decision-making around disclosure.

“I don’t understand how in the world the OPCC determined just to take that at face value,” Jamie said.

VicPD Chief Del Manak said the department reported Ferris to the OPCC.

“At no point in time was there any attempt to try to derail the process or to mislead the court,” Manak said at a news conference last Wednesday.

“Regarding Const. Kim Taylor, there were some mistakes that were made.”

Mistakes Alex claims Taylor’s supervisors should have been aware of.

“Somebody needed to approve those files,” Alex said. “If it’s not Lawson, then who was approving it?”

Concealing previous warrants

Murray’s decision suggests there were efforts to mislead the court prior to Lawson’s departure from the file.

She said another investigator on the file, Const. Simon de Wit, concealed the fact that warrants had been obtained while Ferris was working on the case.

“That should be a Police Act complaint,” Jamie said, noting police officers must state whether prior judicial authorizations have been granted.

“That’s sworn and that’s on the face page of the warrant.”

Manak said he is “not going to argue” with Murray’s assertion that investigators misled the court.

“It can certainly seem that way. I can tell you that our officers acted in good faith,” he said. “They were sharing the information that they felt was relevant and that they had.”

On Tuesday afternoon, VicPD said it looks forward to gaining additional information through the Police Act investigation.

“We respect the processes of the OPCC and will continue to fully support and cooperate with this ongoing investigation. Depending on what they find, there could be a request for additional investigations, but it’s important that we allow the investigation to take its course,” Manak said in a written statement.

Will the Police Act investigation expand?

CTV News asked the OPCC if other Project Juliet investigators will be investigated under the Police Act, in addition to Taylor.

“We are carefully reviewing all the information we know at this juncture and will ensure that any relevant allegations of police misconduct relating to ‘Project Juliet’ are assessed for investigation under the Police Act,” Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Andrea Spindler said.

“This investigation was placed on hold while the matter was before the courts. We are reviewing the decision of the B.C. Supreme Court and will lift the suspension in due course.”

Taylor should not be let off the hook if she did in fact deceive the court, Schachter said.

“You have to take personal responsibility, but it can’t end there,” he said.

“When you have a situation where there was a designed coverup of the participation of a suspected tainted police officer in a multimillion-dollar law enforcement campaign, the strategy does not come from one individual constable but from higher up," Schachter told CTV News.

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