He ventured into the wilds of north Durham looking for Sasquatch, but a Toronto man says he was instead confronted by an angry police officer who accused him of being a dope grower.
In a complaint filed with Durham police, Tim Marczenko claims he was detained, called a liar and accused of committing crimes he had no part in.
Durham police have reviewed the complaint and, while admitting Mr. Marczenko’s survival knife was seized in error, found no misconduct on the part of the officer. Mr. Marczenko has appealed that finding to a police oversight agency.
“I was shocked and insulted by the way they handled my complaint,” he said. “My rights were violated.
“I feel an apology needs to come from the officer and the department for not taking this seriously.”
Mr. Marczenko’s brush with the law came last August when he ventured into the bush in Brock Township. A member of Ontario Wildlife Field Research — a group that investigates the presence of creatures including Bigfoot and large cats — he said he went to check on tracks found in the bush near Concession 2 and Sideroad 17.
Mr. Marczenko said that when he emerged from the bush and got back into his rental car, he found his way blocked by a Durham police cruiser. He said that, when he explained his reason for being in the area, he was ridiculed by Constable Robert Aukema, the officer dispatched to check out a report of suspicious activity in the area.
Mr. Marczenko said Const. Aukema dismissed his story as “bulls–t” and demanded to know if he had an accomplice with him. The officer seized a survival knife in Mr. Marczenko’s car and threatened him with legal repercussions, the complaint says.
The officer told Mr. Marczenko he’d heard the same Bigfoot story from people arrested for drug crimes in the area, the complaint says. Mr. Marczenko said he was handcuffed and detained in the back of a police vehicle for more than an hour despite his pleas of innocence.
“He threatened me many times, saying he was going to tow my car or charge me with trespassing or concealing a weapon,” Mr. Marczenko said. He said that when the officer found the knife in the rental car, “He said I was lucky I didn’t get a gun in my face.”
Mr. Marczenko was eventually released, but not before being given a provincial offences ticket for trespassing and, he said, a warning to stay away from the area. He said he paid the fine, but now regrets doing so.
“I want the (trespassing) charge dropped,” he said. “I also want to be reimbursed for the trespassing fine.”
Mr. Marczenko, who insists he has no involvement with drugs or marijuana trafficking, says he was unfairly profiled simply because of his presence in the area that day. He feels his detention was unlawful, and that his legitimate excuse for being in the area was summarily dismissed.
“I felt helpless, alone, attacked,” Mr. Marczenko said.
“The officer made up his mind that I was guilty before even pulling me over.”
Mr. Marczenko’s complaint was investigated by officers with Durham’s professional standards unit, who interviewed Const. Aukema as well as property owners who called police on the day of the incident. The investigation found that, while the officer erred in seizing Mr. Marczenko’s knife — he’s been compensated for the item — there was no misconduct on Const. Aukema’s part.
“The involved officer’s conduct . . . did not amount to discreditable conduct and I therefore find the complainant’s allegations with respect to these issues as unsubstantiated,” Inspector George Dmytruk wrote in a final report.
“Constable Aukema did detain Mr. Marczenko, however, the detention was required to conduct a complete and thorough criminal investigation,” the report says.
Among the information relied upon by professional standards was a statement by Const. Aukema, who said he is familiar with the area as a location where marijuana is grown. The officer said that weeks before his encounter with Mr. Marczenko he questioned three young men found in the area who claimed they were there “in search of Bigfoot.”
“Through investigation it was found these males were actually planting marijuana,” Const. Aukema said in his statement.
The officer said he was suspicious of the “exceptionally flustered” Mr. Marczenko and that he noticed vegetation resembling marijuana leaves in the rental car (there’s no evidence any pot was found in the car).
“I had a reasonable suspicion that Marczenko was in the area for a nefarious purpose, more specifically the purpose of tending to an outdoor marijuana grow,” Const. Aukema said.
The officer did not specifically address Mr. Marczenko’s claim that he could have had a “gun in his face,” but said he told him “trying to conceal a knife from a police officer who is actively approaching his vehicle was a horrible decision.”
Mr. Marczenko has appealed the decision of Durham investigators to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, which investigates complaints about police conduct.
“I have reason to believe that others in the department are protecting the officer involved,” he said. “I tried on more than one occasion to bring attention to the issue but I felt it was never taken seriously or dealt with professionally.”
Durham police spokesman Dave Selby said the service won’t comment further on the complaint while the OIPRD appeal is ongoing.