Misconduct hearing officer says veteran sergeant has a 'chip on her shoulder'

Sgt. Helena Pereira must forfeit nine days off, complete remedial de-escalation and use of force training and receive a reprimand in punishment of three police misconduct charges, according to a disciplinary hearing that concluded Thursday.
Among the charges Pereira was disciplined over: Failing to wear her uniform while dealing with a suspect in custody in the police holding cells. (CBC)

The disciplinary hearing against a veteran Hamilton police sergeant concluded Thursday with the hearing officer suggesting Sgt. Helena Pereira harbours animosity toward her employer of 23 years and that she needs to get over it to continue her career.

"Sgt. Pereira has a chip on her shoulder towards the organization that has manifested over time, is my belief," retired Supt. Morris Elbers, the hearing officer, said Thursday.

"Sgt. Pereira should deal with this issue and until she does, rehabilitation or reform of this officer is unlikely."

Her defence representative, Brad Boyce, took issue with that characterization, and with the seriousness of the penalties handed out by Elbers.

"I don't agree with the hearing officer that she has a chip on her shoulder," Boyce said. "And I don't believe that most people would see it that way."

Four years later

Elbers ruled that Pereira must forfeit nine days off, complete remedial de-escalation and use of force training and receive a reprimand in punishment of three police misconduct charges.

The charges stem from two incidents in 2013 and were one charge each of discreditable conduct, unlawful exercise of authority and insubordination. Three other charges were already either withdrawn or she was found not guilty.

The hearing conclusion came more than four years later and ended a long and twisted journey of hearings and appeals for Pereira.

Shared pizza lunches

After Pereira was found guilty of three charges in 2015, her defence had filed a judicial review, contending the pizza lunches shared by Elbers, the prosecutor, Gary Melanson, and the officer who investigated allegations against Pereira made him unfit to be the hearing officer.

Pereira asked Elbers to recuse himself from the hearing process, but he said no. She then appealed that decision. That appeal was dismissed in February for being "premature."

Boyce, who is with the Hamilton Police Association, said it was disappointed in the decision. He'd submitted that a reprimand for all three charges would be sufficient.

Pereira was not at the hearing on Thursday due to a medical issue.

"She will undoubtedly be disappointed but not surprised" at the amount of hours she must work for free, Boyce said.

The lost pay adds up to about $3,700, he said.

'Grossly inappropriate'

Pereira has a complicated history with the Hamilton Police Service, including a time in 2006 when was arrested on charges that had been made up by a rookie officer that were later dropped, according to the Hamilton Spectator. She held the false charges soured her work environment.

For this hearing, the discreditable conduct charge was related to an incident on Feb. 7, 2013, when Pereira did not immediately disclose that a suspect in custody at the police station was her cousin, and that she slapped him.

"It is obvious that [her cousin] was afforded leniencies that other prisoners would not have received," Elbers wrote.

"The actions … were grossly inappropriate and lacked any reason she could explain to her supervisors."

'That remains to be seen'

The other charges were tied to an incident a month later in which Pereira allegedly used unnecessary force against a drunk woman in police custody, without wearing her police uniform.

He found that her actions to enter a cell and push a prisoner were "totally unwarranted."

"She attempted to downplay her actions and create a justification for her conduct that her actions were justified when they were totally inaccurate," he wrote.

The hearing officer found it was "somewhat optimistic" that Pereira's defence representative, Boyce, wrote that in a similar situation in the future "she would act differently."

"That remains to be seen," Elbers wrote.

Boyce said it was premature to talk about any other remedies Pereira may seek, including further appeal or complaint to a police oversight body.