A constable with the Abbotsford Police Department in B.C. is facing criminal charges and 16 other officers are under investigation for allegations related to the integrity of statements used in a number of criminal cases to obtain search warrants.
Const. Christopher Nicholson has been charged with six counts of attempting to obstruct justice, three counts of breach of trust, and one count of unsafe storage of a firearm, according to the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch.
He has been ordered suspended without pay.
The Office of the Police Complaints Commission, which announced the investigation Wednesday, said when Nicholson was arrested in May 2013 he was also charged with one count of conspiracy to traffic in a controlled substance.
But Neil Mackenzie, a spokesman for B.C.'s Criminal Justice Branch, said the Crown entered a stay of proceedings on that charge.
Once a stay is entered, the Crown, should it choose to do so, has up to a year to reactivate the charge.
Even though Nicholson was arrested and charged nearly two years ago, the OPCC said disclosure of the larger investigation was delayed until now, in order to complete a number of "sensitive investigative steps."
Abbotsford police chief responds to allegations
At the time Nicholson was first arrested in 2013, Abbotsford police Chief Bob Rich told reporters the allegations involved an officer supplying information to a drug dealer so the dealer could avoid being arrested.
On Wednesday, Rich said the investigation started thanks to other police officers who came forward with information.
"In the fall of 2012, two of our members came forward and said they thought we had a problem with one of our members and their integrity showed that day, and we immediately took their concerns seriously and ended up asking Vancouver [Police Department] to take on an investigation into the conduct of Const. Nicholson," Rich said.
The chief pointed out that the investigation into the other 16 officers is for alleged misconduct under the Police Act, not the Criminal Code.
Rich also made a point of standing up for the other police officers currently under investigation, pointing out that Nicholson is the only police officer who has been charged criminally.
"We have a large number of members under investigation under the Police Act. I need you to understand that if I did not have confidence in the integrity of these members, I would have suspended them. I have not done that," he said.
They are, in my view, great cops. They continue to serve this community even while under investigation, and I am proud of how they have conducted themselves during difficult times."
Rich also said that the officers in question have been taken off drug investigations and moved to other duties, and that the Abbotsford police have changed the way they handle informants following a Vancouver police audit.
Some court cases on hold
The OPCC said the Vancouver Police Department investigation uncovered further allegations of misconduct against 16 other members of the Abbotsford Police Department, which has 217 officers.
It also determined many of the allegations against officers deal with the information provided to judicial officials in order to obtain search warrants.
The complaints commission said it has not been able to adequately determine the extent to which prosecutions may have been compromised "due to the lack of adequate disclosure from the police."
It said that delay is due to legal impediments arising from the complexity of the case and the sheer magnitude of investigative materials.
"Several investigations have been suspended pending the disclosure of the investigative materials in order to ensure that the related criminal proceedings are not prejudiced," said the commission statement.
After he was charged in May 2013, Nicholson made his first appearance in B.C. Supreme Court in July. His trial date has been set for May 26, 2016, and his next scheduled court appearance is Aug 28.
The complaints commission will release a summary of its final report on the investigation to the public once its probe is complete.