Charges have officially been withdrawn against three Calgary police officers accused of failing to test for the blood alcohol level of a driver associated with a 2012 fatal crash.
Edyta Wal, 23, and Chris Turner, 25, were crossing Macleod Trail at 90th Avenue S.E. in a crosswalk on Aug. 25, 2012 when they were struck by a car.
Wal was pronounced dead in hospital, Turner died two days later.
According to a police file, the driver of the car disclosed that he had been drinking and consumed a “mickey” of alcohol on his own and thought he was going to jail for driving under the influence. He also indicated he was traveling at 90 km/h in a 60 km/h zone.
Const. Grant Maveal, Const. Randall Macdonald and Const. T.K. Rutherford were originally charged with neglect of duty and discreditable conduct under the Alberta Police Act following a formal complaint from the Turner and Wal families.
The officers were accused of failing to properly investigate the incident, including whether or not the driver involved was impaired by alcohol.
POLICE EXPLAIN WHY CHARGES WERE DROPPED
Charges against all three officers were dropped on Dec. 1.
In a statement released Friday morning, Calgary police stood by their decision to withdraw the professional conduct charges.
Although the investigating officers had originally suspected the driver had consumed alcohol earlier that evening, injuries to his eye and face had resulted in him being transported to hospital and prevented a roadside breath demand according to police.
“At the time of the collision, s. 253 of the Criminal Code required officers to have reasonable grounds to believe a driver had committed a criminal offence before demanding a blood sample,” read the police statement.
“The officers sought evidence to form ‘reasonable grounds,’ which included speaking to witnesses and the driver, smelling the driver’s breath for liquor, listening for speech impairment, and looking for physical or cognitive impairment. None of those factors, considered individually or together, provided the necessary grounds.”
The statement adds Calgary police asked Crown prosecutors whether there was sufficient evidence to criminally charge the driver. After receiving the written Crown opinion, the driver was not criminally charged.
“Although there were things that could have been done better, the investigation and reconstruction were deemed complete and in keeping with standards and processes applicable at the time,” read the police statement.
“The presenting officers concluded there was no reasonable prospect of proving any of the misconduct allegations, resulting in their withdrawal.”
FAMILIES OF VICTIMS MET WITH POLICE
Before the charges against the Calgary police officer were dropped last week, police noted that they had canceled a meeting where they planned to provide information to the victim’s families, noting a scheduling conflict.
The meeting was postponed until earlier this week and after the hearing took place.
“During this meeting we apologized for the impact this process has had on them and their children’s friends, and for the lack of communication from CPS throughout the process regarding the status of the investigation and their formal complaint,” read the CPS statement.
“The decision to withdraw the allegations was not taken lightly. Mindful of the impact this would have on the families, a significant review of all the relevant circumstances was conducted before coming to this conclusion.”
For Ziggy Wal, Edyta’s father, the news is incredibly disappointing.
“I feel like everything that was done was unprofessional, the lack of professionalism was just huge and I never expected it would happen,” he said.
“I thought the law was strong, but it’s not. It’s already been nine years and it’s tough for my family too especially right now during Christmas because this place is empty.”
Edyta’s former boyfriend, Charles Mulhern, also spoke with CTV Calgary on Friday.
He said Edyta was living in Calgary where her brother had moved to study engineer.
The pair had just graduated from Western University in London, Ont., and were looking forward to being reunited.
“Being a police officer is one of the toughest jobs in the world, these people suffer traumas that are unspeakable, they see the darkest parts of humanity, but we hold them to a high standard and they hold themselves to a higher standard,” Mulhern said.
“It’s why I can’t understand why this case was so unbelievably mishandled. The families had the right to a fair investigation and it was crippled by the choices of the officers on scene that night.”
Police went on to say that its team realizes this explanation does “little to bring closure to the families” and has since made changes to improve processes and timelines to investigate and address police conduct.
The victim’s assistance support team is also working to address sudden death notifications and support to family members that suffer a tragic loss.
“The families’ grief and suffering are unimaginable. That our Service contributed to their pain is unacceptable and contrary to our core values, especially compassion,” the police statement concluded.
‘THEY ARE OUTRAGED’: LAWYER REPRESENTING TURNER AND WAL FAMILIES
Tom Engel, who is now representing both the Turner and Wal families, says the media release issued by Calgary police Friday morning breaches the terms for the conditions for the past meeting held between both parties.
Engel says the media release was without prejudice and included misleading information.
In a letter sent to Calgary police public affairs on Friday, Engel said “you have until Monday at noon to decide whether the CPS will issue a revised statement containing the details I previously provided to you that must be in the statement.”
“To say they are outraged is an understatement more like devastated,” Engel said in an interview with CTV Calgary.
“The only reason for refusing a demand for a screening device (to check blood alcohol level) would be if you’re physically incapable of providing the sample or to do so would create a grave risk to your health. Neither of those things were present and it doesn’t matter if he’s blind at the time. You can still blow into this device.”
Engel says a number of details were not revealed in the police media release and he was unable to provide further information as he waits for a response by noon on Monday.
‘HE DID NOTHING WRONG’: LAWYER OF CONST. MAVEAL
Criminal defence lawyer Cory Wilson, who represented Maveal says his client is incredibly grateful that Calgary police have dropped charges against him, adding that the “black cloud” has followed him for the majority of his career.
“My client followed the law to the letter,” Wilson said.
“When (Maveal) arrived on scene, he didn’t have reasonable grounds to make a breath demand or a blood demand, so he took all the appropriate steps. He followed his training. He spoke with the paramedics who all agreed that with this individual there was no smell of alcohol coming from his breath whatsoever.”
Wilson acknowledged that the crash itself was an incredible tragedy, but added that Maveal followed the driver to the hospital and spoke with doctors to ask if there were any signs of intoxication.
Maveal also spoke with two members of the CPS traffic unit and a superior who all told him that he had no reasonable grounds.
“What happened was that the individual driving the car said that he had stopped consuming alcohol approximately four and a half hours before the crash,” Wilson said.
“Once my client had that information, he made some more inquiries about it. And what the driver actually said while he was in the ambulance was that he was so confused. The driver was in shock and wondering if this was a DUI or if he was being arrested.”
Wilson notes that Maveal had done everything he could during the traffic stop “by the book” and “according to his training.”
“What more could my officer have done? Absolutely nothing,” said Wilson.
“Had he taken further steps and said we’re demanding blood or alcohol, there’s no doubt that it would have been dropped by the Crown prosecutor because it would have been an unlawful demand.”
CHANGES TO THE CRIMINAL CODE
Changes to the Criminal Code, which were made in 2018, now allow officers to test for blood alcohol levels based on any suspicion that a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Previous legislation had required officers to have “reasonable grounds” to test a driver that had committed a criminal offence.
Rick Lundy, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Calgary, says the new changes are welcomed, especially during the holiday season when alcohol or drug consumption is more prevalent.
“Calgary police, the sheriff’s department and RCMP have all said they’re going to be out in full force so if someone’s going to drink and drive, they’re going to get caught,” Lundy said.
“Thinking that this is never going to happen to you is unreasonable, it does happen, we deal with families that have lost loved ones every single day. You don’t just get over this, it’s something that families are dealing with for the rest of their lives.”
Lundy says Calgarians are encouraged to plan ahead before consuming alcohol or drugs.
“The resources out there are huge, we have cabs, we have Uber, we have designated drivers, we have transit so there’s lots of options out there and there’s no excuse for driving once you are impaired.”