A Barrie father wants a public inquiry into past criminal cases involving the cop who is on trial for allegedly assaulting his son and fabricating evidence to cover it up.
Barrie Police Service Const. Jason Nevill was charged after he arrested Jason Stern at Bayfield Mall in November 2010. The trial began last January and is on a break until April. Nevill is innocent until proven guilty.
“I think there should be an inquiry, once the trial is over, if he’s convicted,” said David Stern, Jason’s father. He said an inquiry into Nevill’s past arrests could raise questions about whether any people were wrongfully charged or harmed.
Jason Stern was with friends at the mall in November 2010 when his friend broke an ornament on a Christmas display, according to testimony at the trial. They left, but Stern returned to fetch the wallet he’d left behind and was detained by security guards, who called police.
What happened next can be seen on surveillance video. Const. Nevill arrives and appears to talk to Stern for about half a minute. Then the officer comes toward Stern suddenly, pushes him against a wall and, as the two mall security guards jump in to help, forces him to the ground. With the guards holding Stern down, Nevill appears to hit Stern, handcuff him, and continue to hit him.
Later, a mall security guard washes away blood left on the pavement.
Stern was charged with assaulting a police officer with the intent to resist arrest. When the mall surveillance footage came to light during the court process, the Crown dropped the charges against Stern and the police chief called in the OPP to investigate Nevill.
One part of the trial testimony that concerns David Stern was that the police had used video evidence from the same mall in other cases, but when Nevill claimed to have been assaulted by Jason Stern, he didn’t ask for the surveillance footage to prove his claim.
“That’s extremely telling,” said David Stern, adding he’s concerned there could be a “good ol’ boys club” mentality at the police service, where an officer who took down a suspect on his own would “get a pat on the back” or be considered a hero.
The video, and Berrie police chief’s response
Surveillance video of a Barrie police officer hitting an unarmed, handcuffed man and then arresting him has raised a few questions about the local police force and police oversight in Ontario.
The video was released last week at Const. Jason Nevill’s trial for assault, fabricating evidence and attempting to obstruct justice.
It has elicited a strong reaction from the community, especially from those who have seen the online video of the alleged assault, says the editor of the Barrie Advance, Matthew Talbot.
“It’s one thing to read about it, but when you can actually see with your own eyes, and make your own judgments — the video is what it is,” he said. “It elicits a stronger response when the readers can see it themselves.”
The surveillance video has made the rounds on social media platforms and people, many with no apparent connection to Barrie, have bombarded the Barrie Police Facebook page with links to the video and criticism of the police service’s handling of the case.
Mark Neelin, chief of the Barrie Police Service, released a video last week to address community concerns about the Nevill case and other cases involving Barrie officers, but had little to say.
“I am proud to lead this group of men and women,” he says. “Recent and ongoing court cases and news reports involving members of our service have raised concerns within our community. I understand these concerns. However, as matters are currently ongoing before the courts, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on them at this time. I would like to reassure you that the Barrie Police Service is committed to our community and remains an open and transparent organization.”
According to Ron Bain, executive director of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, there is very little a chief can say about any ongoing trial.
While a police chief may desire to be open and transparent about a case, such as this one, where an officer is cleared, they still can’t give any details, he said. “It offends the whole judicial process.”
As reported in the Barrie Advance, Neelin was criticized for saying too much by both Nevill’s defence lawyer and the head of the local police association after he said in a news release he was “satisfied that a full and impartial investigation has been conducted and that the public interest has been served.”
The time to address community concerns is after the court process, he said.
Policing the police
In Ontario, police oversight by the Special Investigations Unit is supposed to kick in when a person is seriously injured, killed, or alleges sexual assault in an interaction with police.
In this case, the SIU was never involved.
“The SIU has jurisdiction over criminal acts by police officers that lead to serious injury, but the term serious injury isn’t defined in the legislation,” said Abby Deshman, director of the public safety program of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
The SIU itself uses a definition of serious injury that includes injuries “likely to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim and are more than merely transient or trifling in nature,” which includes when the victim is admitted to hospital, suffers a fractured bone, burns or loses vision or hearing.
The CCLA would like to see a more expansive view of serious injury and Deshman says the provincial government has been asked for years, in reports from her group and others, to put a definition of serious injury into legislation.
“Certainly, it seems like this person was beaten and I think those are serious injuries,” she said.
When there are criminal charges, the SIU should be providing oversight of the local police, said Deshman.
There are other oversight bodies, but none apply in this case. Police service boards oversee policy decisions and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) provides oversight and discipline, but does not make its findings public, except for rare cases where a hearing is held.