The Edmonton Police Service recently promoted officer Mike Wasylyshen to sergeant despite a criminal record for the drunken, off-duty assault of a man on crutches and a disciplinary suspension for Tasering a passed-out native youth.
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I am a little bit on the dumbfounded side that he was promoted, but (also) that he is still a police officer,” criminologist Keith Spencer said. “Because when you really catalogue his behaviour, it is totally overwhelmingly negative.”
Neither Wasylyshen nor his lawyer responded to interview requests.
Wasylyshen is the son of former Edmonton police chief Bob Wasylyshen.
Court records show that at about 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 18, 2005, a “heavily intoxicated” Wasylyshen, who was off duty that night, launched an unprovoked attack on Devin Stacey, who was on crutches following knee surgery, as Stacey attempted to hail a cab on Whyte Avenue.
Wasylyshen later punched a security guard from a nearby corner store who intervened in the melee and repeatedly threatened to kill Stacey and the security guard.
Both Stacey and the security guard independently told CBC News that Wasylyshen said he could find them and would burn down their houses with their families inside.
Wasylyshen pleaded guilty to two counts of assault in April 2009. A charge of uttering threats was dropped by the Crown.
His lawyer read reference letters into the court record that said he had turned his life around by quitting drinking and become an asset to the police service with a gift for leadership.
A judge fined him $500 and refused a defence request for a suspended record, leaving Wasylyshen with a criminal record.
In January 2013, CBC News obtained an internal EPS professionalism report. It revealed EPS members generally had concerns about accountability.
"The majority of the membership believe in stricter discipline and are disappointed that those who break the rules repeatedly are rarely dealt with appropriately," the report states. "They are asking for appropriate, consistent, and timely discipline."
Tom Engel of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association believes Wasylyshen’s promotion is a “shining example” of the concerns expressed by EPS officers about lack of accountability.
“I think that this will not go over well within the rank and file of the Edmonton Police Service,” Engel said. “It sends a message that you can commit all sorts of serious misconduct and it is not going to stand in your way of being promoted.”
He said Wasylyshen’s promotion doesn’t just send a negative message to the public; it is also “a real slap in the face for people who are committed to good policing and good relationships with the public.”
But in an emailed statement, the EPS insisted, “all EPS officers are held accountable for their conduct, and the matters involving (Wasylyshen) have been dealt with previously under the Police Act and are on record as being resolved.
“These matters were also considered as part of the promotion process,” the statement said. “The EPS promotion process involves an in-depth assessment, and includes a written exam, behavioural interview, as well a review by the management team/promotion board and EPS Professional Standards.”
The statement said Wasylyshen, and other officers, “went through a fair and balanced process, demonstrated their competencies, and proved themselves ready for promotion.”
Tasered passed-out teen
A decade earlier, Wasylyshen had Tasered 16-year-old Randy Fryingpan eight times in 68 seconds while the native teen was passed out drunk in a car.
The aboriginal community in Edmonton was outraged because Wasylyshen was neither criminally charged nor, initially, internally disciplined. The EPS only filed internal disciplinary charges against him after the Law Enforcement Review Board ordered it to.
A judge in 2005 had previously ruled Wasylyshen used excessive force in the criminal case against the native teenager. The judge called the Tasering “cruel and unusual punishment” that amounted to a breach of the teen’s charter rights.
The presiding officer in Wasylyshen’s internal disciplinary hearing said he wasn’t convinced the officer was either remorseful or accepted his decision, and he called Wasylyshen’s use of excessive force “offensive” and an “embarrassment to policing.”
Lewis Cardinal is co-chair of the Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice, which advocates for aboriginal people in Alberta.
He said the police service’s handling of the Tasering of Fryingpan seriously strained relations between the police and the aboriginal community. And he said Wasylyshen’s promotion will further undermine trust.
“This kind of behaviour has to be stopped from the top down,” he said. “However, if you reward by moving people up with this kind of history, you are then sending a totally different message to the community.”
In 2003, a provincial court judge found Wasylyshen wilfully deceived a justice of the peace to obtain a search warrant and ruled the drugs seized were inadmissible.
Engel said Wasylyshen’s criminal record for assault, his use of excessive force in the Fryingpan case and his wilful deception of a justice of the peace will almost certainly be raised by defence lawyers in future cases.
“Why would they want to put a police officer in a position like that in a gang and drug unit? It is just setting him up, setting up the Crown, for having a witness who is going to be discredited.”