Hamilton cop on trial for corruption defied direct order from chief while suspended

Suspended Hamilton cop Craig Ruthowsky says he didn't think he did anything wrong when he defied a direct order from the chief of Hamilton police while under suspension and talked about police procedures with a known drug dealer.

Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky of Hamilton police faces charges of cocaine trafficking and bribery

Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky of Hamilton police is facing several charges in Toronto Superior Court. The Crown alleges Ruthowsky was helping the criminals he was supposed to be prosecuting, in exchange for cash. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Suspended Hamilton cop Craig Ruthowsky says he didn't think he did anything wrong when he defied a direct order from the chief of Hamilton police while under suspension and talked about police procedures with a known drug dealer.

Ruthowsky finally finished testifying after eight gruelling days in the witness box of a Toronto courtroom Thursday, as the trial into his misconduct allegations continues. After four days of evidence, Ruthowsky has sparred with the Crown this entire week over the intricacies of his testimony. 

Ruthowsky, 44, is accused of selling police secrets and protection for $20,000 monthly payments from a crew of drug dealers.

The 17-year-veteran of Hamilton police has pleaded not guilty in Superior Court in Toronto to charges of bribery, attempting to obstruct justice, trafficking cocaine, criminal breach of trust, and conspiring to traffic marijuana.

I had an order not to talk to informants and I know I was breaching that, but I breached that order with respect to saving people's lives.- Craig Ruthowsky

The Crown grilled Ruthowsky with questions about an intercepted wiretap call with a drug dealer that was captured as part of "Project Pharaoh," which was a massive Toronto police guns and gangs investigation back in 2015.

It was that call that put Ruthowsky on the project's radar. The Crown's key witness — a drug dealer — previously testified that he was calling Ruthowsky in May of 2015 to ask him questions about two kilograms of cocaine that had gone missing from a drug runner's car.

"Do the cops do stuff like that, just take stuff and charge somebody later?" the dealer can be heard on the recording.

"They do do that," Ruthowsky responded.

"They need something called a general search warrant, and that's a pretty big deal … I was in gangs for five years, and we never did a general search warrant."

In this police wiretap, Hamilton police officer Craig Ruthowsky is heard giving advice to a drug dealer. 0:35

On the call, Ruthowsky also muses that the coke could have been stolen, or could have been pinched in an inside job.

"It sounds like buddy got followed, or buddy himself took it," Ruthowsky said on the call.

The dealer — who cannot be named because of a publication ban — previously testified about how that conversation tailored his understanding of police investigations.

"It just gave me a bit more understanding about, police procedure wise, how it worked," he said.

"After the call, I realized this could have been the cops."

'You did disclose police tactics'

On Thursday, Ruthowsky testified that he was just being a "good informant handler" when he was talking to the dealer. He said he offered up "many scenarios" to the dealer, and "sent him down the road" to thinking the drug runner himself was responsible to the theft.

"You did disclose police tactics to him," Crown John Pollard said.

"No, in my opinion I disclosed codified police procedure to him," Ruthowsky responded. "Information that was in the public domain."

At the time of the call, Ruthowsky was suspended, and under a direct order from the chief of police to not speak to any confidential informants. 

"I had an order not to talk to informants and I know I was breaching that, but I breached that order with respect to saving people's lives," Ruthowsky testified. 

Trial's evidence expected to conclude this week

Ruthowsky alleges the dealer was one of his informants, though the dealer denies this. Ruthowsky said that after he was suspended, the dealer had fed him information he passed on to other officers that helped with investigations including an arson, a machine gun, and a murder.

Pollard suggested that Ruthowsky could have simply told the dealer he was suspended, and couldn't talk.

"I could've said that yes, but I'm a police officer, and in my personal nature, knowing I solved a murder before with his information, I had a desire to listen to him and see what he had to say," Ruthowsky said.

"At the end of the conversation, I was in complete control of him, and he did exactly what I wanted him to do."

The trial's evidence is expected to conclude this week, with closing submissions from the Crown and the defence coming next week.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.