Attorney Seth Weinstein.
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A police officer charged with misconduct testified Thursday that his accuser, Richard Burns, threw himself to the ground in an effort to “make a scene.”
The third day into the hearing of a September 2011 incident that led to the misconduct charges continued at Valhalla Inn. Burns, who testified earlier in the week, didn’t appear when the three accused officers took the stand.
Burns testified that the officers were after retribution because of a settlement he was awarded following a human rights tribunal against the police force.
Thunder Bay Police Service Det. William Wowchuck, Det.-Const. Ron Popowich and Det.-Const. Brad Bernst were each charged with a count of misconduct by unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority and one count of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act.
All three have pleaded not guilty.
At the time of the incident, the three officers were watching what they believed was a home of a known drug dealer on Oliver Road. A number of vehicles came and went while the officers watched, and the trio agreed they would arrest a driver of one of those vehicles.
Popowich, who testified first, explained to the hearing officer that they decided as a group they would arrest the driver of the first vehicle that left the home.
The car that left first was being driven by Burns.
Police followed the car and they went to arrest him for drug related charges at the Money Mart on Memorial Avenue.
When Popowich arrived, he said he saw Burns first standing but then he threw himself to the ground.
“He was acting very belligerent and he was telling us how much trouble we would be in. I believe he was talking about the lawsuit,” Popowich said.
“He wanted to make a scene. He dropped to the ground. I believe he wanted to hurt himself. He berated us the whole time like he was doing for the past two days here.”
When Popowich tried to help him to his feet, he said Burns refused because “it would look better for the video if I (Burns) stayed on the ground.”
Popowich said Burns began complaining of heart problems so one of the officers called for an ambulance, but he added that it didn’t appear he was in any real discomfort.
The officers searched Burns but didn’t find any drugs.
Popowich testified that they found $100 in Burns’ wallet and another $80 that was separated. He said he believed the $80 was intended for buying Oxycodone.
Ultimately, they let Burns go.
Popowich said he suspects Burns tipped off the suspected dealer they were watching, which led to the unsuccessful police search two weeks later.
Popowich denied that they targeted Burns for arrest out of retribution. He said police use their own judgment if they believe they have reasonable grounds for making an arrest.
Prosecutor Bernd Richardt questioned the officer’s use of the term reasonable grounds in order for police to make an arrest. He said none of the officers saw any drugs exchange hands and were assuming that something illegal was happening.
“Someone could be dropping off keys,” Richardt said.
Popowich disagreed and added based on the information they received anyone who went to that home were there to buy drugs.
The hearing is expected to wrap up Friday.
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