As one watches a police officer sit in the accused box inside a secure courtroom, only the back of the head visible from the gallery, the background droning noise of lawyers speaking in hushed self-importance, one can not help but be disheartened. This is not the place cops are supposed to find themselves; silent, not reacting, heads bowed in shame or avoidance.
But recently, this is where three of the four accused Mounties found themselves. After many years of courtroom haggling and delays; Attew, Brassington, Michaud and Johnson now join an infamous group of cops gone bad, or more accurately, a case of cops gone stupid.
They did however, for the most part, manage to get away with it. Destroying their reputations, putting the battered RCMP back in the news for the wrong reasons, and almost sinking a large investigation–but in the end it did not hurt them, at least in terms of what resulted during a few hours in Vancouver courtroom 67.
Six criminal charges against Dave Attew, seven criminal offences against Derek Brassington, and three criminal charges against Danny Michaud. All pled away, discarded by Crown Chris Considine. All reduced down to a single criminal count against Brassington and two summary conviction offences under the RCMP Act pertaining to Section 48(1) against Michaud and Attew.
In a somewhat rare move, the criminal charges against Attew and Michaud were discarded, replaced by a single new charge under the RCMP act, which states that any member who “concerts or connives at any act whereby any rule, order or regulation made”. Thirteen criminal charges minimized almost to the point of insignificance.
Only this to show after years of delays, trips to the Supreme Court of Canada and a denied Jordan application. Charges of breach of trust, obstruction and fraud reduced to almost nothing. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in court time, lawyers, judges, investigators both within the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police, exchanged in essence for some community work service. Michaud has even been paid for the last eight years while sitting at home.
Despite two facing charges of fraud for unjustified overtime claims, no doubt amounting into the thousands of dollars, only Mr Brassington was fined $10K. Mr. Attew gets to keep his money.
There was a nagging feeling throughout watching the proceedings that the Crown (and no doubt in consult with the RCMP management) did not have an appetite for a trial and the prolonged embarrassment that would have played out over several weeks in a courtroom in full view of the media. This was a whitewash—the alternative explanation is that Mr. Considine is the worst deal maker in Provincial criminal history. Clearly, they wanted this to quietly go away, and except for a few uncomfortable days in the media, it will in fact disappear from the public conscience.
So what actually went wrong? We were told in court, that this investigation was being led by S/Sgt Dave Attew, “one of the top investigators in the Province”. His now wife, in a letter to the court talked about him being a “golden boy”. How did he and the apparently equally talented Sgt. Derek Brassington get so led astray. These self-purported talents to the world of investigation pulled down into the cesspool of criminals. Were they outwitted by some 21st century Dr Moriarty? No, they were pulled under by some twenty something girls whose singular talent seems to have been the ability to date blinged out thugs.
This group of wayward Mounties wants you to believe that this all happened because of the high stress involved in the investigation, the organizational and media pressure, the need to cultivate ‘gangsters’ to testify, that they had to ingratiate themselves to this hideous criminal element; all while selflessly sacrificing their families and putting themselves in jeopardy. While this plays well in the courtroom, it is unadulterated nonsense.
The answer is more simple. This was a massive failure of supervision, coupled with misogynist men acting like pubescent boys, and of greed.
To begin to understand one needs to know the organizational structure within IHIT at the time of this file. There were several investigational teams within IHIT, and these teams of eight are led by Sargents. The primary investigator for any homicide file usually is assigned out of the members of those teams.
Then there is the Team Commander, a person who is assigned and is supposed to be somewhat above the fray, one step removed from the Investigative teams and his or her job is simply oversight, watching the running of the file, both in terms of investigational direction and the administration of the file.
The Team Commander does not, or at least should not get involved in the actual investigational operations. This is also true of the role of the Primary investigator, who is mandated to stay free of being side-tracked operationally.
Above these teams and assignments there is also a full time Administrative officer, who oversees expenses, overtime claims and other such tasks, on behalf of the entire IHIT unit.
Prior to the Surrey 6 file all of these individuals had a history and a reputation for overtime claims, they were accustomed to inflated pay cheques. IHIT management watched over as members of this group established a pattern of working continuously, unchallenged as to the need or justification for countless hours of overtime. There was even a unique custom in IHIT at the end of each fiscal year; the big claimers would come together to compare T-4’s, seeking boasting rights as to who had made the most money. Among this group was Attew, and some future Inspectors like Brian Cantera, and Gary Shinkaruk.
Attew was clearly the leader of this group. He had come from Richmond Detachment for a brief stay in Surrey before joining the newly formed IHIT. His fellow workers in Richmond Detachment were none other than Joe Sabotin, Danny Michaud, and Paul Johnston. All no doubt aided in their coming to IHIT by Attew. Brassington came from Langley Detachment but was known to be a fan of Attew. Therefore all unlikely to question, or voice operational opposition.
This was a culture of free spending and inflated salaries through overtime. Company cars, late nights, road trips, inner office romances, all buoyed by a sense of importance, of important work being led by elite investigators. They were considered above normal scrutiny. It was largely a boy’s club. They took advantage of this fraternity atmosphere, seemingly never impeded, at least in those days, of any thoughts of family and children.
The Officer in Charge of the IHIT group, who at the time of the Surrey 6 was newly minted Mountie Supt. John Robin. Mr. Robin came from retirement as an Inspector with the Delta PD., and was then sworn in as an officer with the RCMP. This raised some eyebrows at the time. A very lucrative move to be sure, but it caused one to wonder if being new to the RCMP he was in the best position to supervise the RCMP’s only homicide unit.
When the Surrey 6 file came in, not one, but two teams were tasked with attending this file. One team called was headed by Sgt. Joe Sabotin and the other team was headed by Sgt Derek Brassington. Both were relatively newly promoted Sargents.
One other myth that should be dispelled at the outset. This was not a complicated file, labour intensive possibly, but not one that was overly difficult to fathom or an incident that had not been dealt with hundreds of times in the past. There was one murder event, inside a single crime scene, with multiple victims all inside the same scene, and multiple suspects from a single criminal group. The Press labelled it a “big” file only because of the number of victims. Experienced investigators also knew that “turning” someone in the criminal group would be needed if the file was ever going to be successful in terms of the laying of charges. That too was not unusual in these gang style homicides.
S/Sgt Attew claimed in court that he was “reluctantly” pulled in to head the investigation and oversee the two teams as the Primary Investigator and Team Commander. This seems a little self-serving.
S/Sgt Attew, who was a S/Sgt early at 18 years service was also not the most experienced investigator in IHIT at the time. Sgt Brassington himself had only 13 years service. In the world of homicide investigation they would not be considered senior officers.
So a friendly group of relatively inexperienced investigators, with a penchant for overtime and a high living lifestyle was paired with a new boss in IHIT, one unfamiliar with the protocols.
As this file progressed, Attew, the team commander and alleged primary investigator, ignored the rules of the command group and became directly involved in cultivating the killer to turn witness —the person the Court refers to as “Witness X”. Attew was just as interested, apparently, in the fact that Witness X, also had a girlfriend who the courts are calling “Jane Doe 2”.
Brassington, who was also acting as a cultivator of this killer began to travel and hang around with this core group of gangsters and their girlfriends. Brassington began to spend time with “Jane Doe 1”, a former girlfriend of both Jamie Bacon and high level gangster Kevin Leclair.
Both girls were in their twenties, while Attew and Brassington were pushing forty years old. They traversed the country, staying in hotels with these “witnesses”, and the restaurants evolved into bars, where alcohol became the fuel for relaxed inhibitions and common sense.
Brassington told the court that he “fell in love” with Jane Doe 1, walking hand in hand in Victoria, having sex at the “safe house”, sometimes in front of others (at one time another female officer was present).
Attew for his part, was pursuing Jane Doe 2, sneaking to her hotel room, rolling around the bedroom, groping her, kissing passionately, or “sexual touching” as the courts like to call it. Not on one occasion, on several occasions. If anything Attew was a persistent lover, if not a persistent investigator. One incident occurred in Montreal, where they ran up an $800 bill for liquor as all of them came together, in the bar where Jane Doe 2 was now working. Attew went to her apartment in his conjugal pursuit bringing new meaning to “witness management”.
They were claiming overtime of course during this time and claiming and righting off their escapades to “expenses”. We never will learn about how much money was involved, but it would have been substantial over many months.
During this investigation, they also formed inside IHIT, their own Witness Management team or unit, which was led by Sgt Ross Joaquin, formerly of the undercover unit. Why was there a need for a separate unit? The RCMP already had such an independent unit. But by doing so, this gave these investigators greater control of all activities surrounding these witnesses. Convenient at least for sure, in terms of what was going on. Where Joaquin disappeared too has not been mentioned.
Michaud, who had only been at IHIT for six months was assigned to this unit, giving him the free ability to travel with and party with this group. Also convenient.
So Dave Attew, who was either the Primary and the Team Commander or both was directly involved in witness protection, as was the Team Leader of one of the other teams, Brassington. Common sense, not so common in this case, would seem to indicate that all this could only end badly.
One must understand that although there were lots of officers indirectly working on this file, a core group, maybe 10 or 12 would likely meet every day to ‘brief’ on this file. It would be impossible that this group would not know of the comings and goings of Attew/Brassington et al., It would or should have caused all to question what was going on. Where that group disappeared to is also a question likely not to be answered.
Where was John Robin? Who was running the investigation and all its disparate parts while two of the main leaders were frolicking? Who was signing overtime and expenses?
It all unravelled of course, when Brassington’s loyal lover began telling everyone she was in a “relationship” with Brassington, even telling Michaud.
Over goes the apple cart, Brassington finally gets confronted by John Robin, who runs to the Commanding Officer of E Division Gary Bass, who finally does the proper thing and notifies the Ontario Provincial Police requesting that they launch an internal investigation.
The Ontario Provincial Police after many months, were in the end probably not awed by these supreme investigators. That had to leave shaking their heads and they ended up recommending over twenty criminal charges.
Among the things they uncovered: “hitting on other women”, “boasting about their undercover police work”, Attew making “inappropriate overtures” while hanging at a bar in Whistler, and Brassington bobbing in a hot tub at the YMCA boasting about the monies he was making and confessing to having an affair. All this while falsifying overtime claims and expenses for thousands of dollars. Even one officer, Michaud, got caught lying to his fellow brother officers in the OPP about when he knew about the Brassington affair.
At no time did these smart guys ever consider they were being “set up”? At no time did they not think that they were both compromising the investigation, and possibly endangering officers lives? At no time did they consider that this breach of trust was in fact a criminal offence, a straight indictable offence, punishable by a possible five years in jail? Clearly they did not think they would get caught as they followed their penises across the country.
It is the stupidity of of it all that resounds. These were future poster-boys for the “MeTooMovement” but there was not an officer or manager in sight who thought to question what was going on, no officer knowledgeable enough to see that operational protocol was being violated from the outset. And none of the members of the investigative team had the temerity to speak up.
Accountability in the RCMP and in particular in this Province never seems to get past the first level, and in this instance the Crown has joined in to promote this miscarriage of justice. As for the taxpayer, you are out a lot of money, the lawyers even got special permission to charge more for their services.
The RCMP management breathes out a collective sigh of relief knowing that once again backroom deals have cleared out the skeleton from their closets and quickly buried them in the backyard.
Harry Truman said “the buck stops here”, not so true amongst the upper levels of the RCMP. They are quite content to let these officers take the fall, no consideration as to who was responsible for oversight. It all sounds too familiar.
Attew, Sobotin, Brassington, Johnson, and Michaud are now all divorced.
Attew is off to a rehabilitation program for a month in the interior of British Columbia at a hotel, all paid for by Veterans Affairs. After all he is retired police officer suffering, again according to his defence counsel, with depression, suicidal thoughts, and panic attacks.
Brassington will likely go back to working with his brother in construction and begin a new chapter as he has found a new “love of his life”.
Michaud will possibly remain with the RCMP as he continues to be paid and he faces the next question as to whether this breach of the code of conduct will mean that he will be removed from the RCMP.
Johnston still is awaiting court in March, but he is in a real fight for his life– battling cancer.
As one sat in the public gallery watching the court grinding on in its inimitable way, slightly out of touch with reality, it was difficult not to be sympathetic to the officers sitting in the courtroom. The fall from grace is indeed unforgiving on a personal level.
But hen as one looked down the row of seats there sat Eileen Mohan, mother of the 18 year old Chris, who was heading off to basketball one minute, and in the next face down in sheer terror as his life was about to be ended. She has weathered and is dealing with the unfathomable. It is unknown whether she even comprehends how close this entire case came to crashing.
Justice was jeopardized by this group of officers. This was not a game. This was not a frat party. There, standing in front of you, is the face of the breach of the public trust, it’s in the face of Eileen Mohan.
As a member of the public you should be very angry and if you are a police officer who plays within the lines you should be disgusted. Your job just got a whole lot harder.
Disclaimer: The author was both a Team Leader and a Team Commander in IHIT during the time of Attew, Brassington and Paul Johnson. They were on a different team.