Once undercover, Hamilton cop alleges police didn't have his back

Ex-undercover cop lays out evocative and wide-ranging details in a lawsuit against his own force, alleging corruption and failure to protect him and his family from mental health issues stemming from his work.

Paul Manning and Sabina Manning are suing for damages after they say Hamilton police failed to protect them

A photograph of Paul Manning from his days working as an undercover cop in Hamilton. (Paul Manning)

He was working undercover as a Hamilton Police officer, standing on the patio of a James Street North bar one day 10 years ago.

Four men walked up.

He recognized two: notorious brothers who'd later kill a man in a wayward drug deal.

"Hey cop," one of the brothers said.

The sudden dread he felt – had he been found out? – spun to basic survival.

The men began assaulting him and later that day tried to kill him, according to a lawsuit the officer, Paul Manning, has filed from his time working as a police officer in Hamilton. 

Evocative and wide-ranging allegations

He and his wife, Sabina, seek $6.75 million in damages in an evocative and wide-ranging lawsuit that names the Hamilton Police Service and its board, the Ontario Provincial Police, former chief Glenn De Caire and OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes.

 'I gave you my husband and you gave me someone completely different.'- Sabina Manning

He now believes that patio attack happened because he had been sold out by a member of his own force. 

They say he's suffered irreversible damage to his mental health because of his undercover work and how he was mishandled by the force. It means he likely won't be returning to police work, which is all he's ever known.

And in addition to that bleak assessment of a mid-career cop contemplating an uncertain future, the suit presents allegations of corruption and shady connections within the force, including where policing intelligence was leaked to Hells Angels members and organized crime.

The suit alleges the police force betrayed the Mannings, including:

  • Failing to train and protect Manning when he was undercover and after he'd transitioned to patrol.
  • Not providing an "exit strategy" for the couple in case Manning's undercover work was compromised, as they allege it was.
  • Ignoring their calls for help as Manning's mental health deteriorated.

Their allegations have not been proven in court, and the court filings don't include documentary evidence of Manning's corruption claims.

CBC Hamilton has not included names of the officers, suspected crime operatives and others Manning fingered as corrupt in the suit.

The Mannings filed their suit originally planning to represent themselves. But they now have a lawyer who'll represent them Tuesday, when the matter is next expected in court for a procedural motion.

"Changed completely"

Once, when their first daughter was 1, Sabina Manning says she got worried after a big argument with Paul, and went to the police to file a report, and to ask for help.

"'He has changed completely since he finished working undercover,'" she recalls telling them that day in 2010.

"And they did nothing. They didn't take his gun away from him, nothing. Even though I said, mentally, he's not capable of having any gun whatsoever," she said, reflecting on the whole saga in an interview with CBC Hamilton.

"I said, you know, 'I gave you my husband and you gave me someone completely different.' He's getting worse and worse and worse.

"They still let him go and drive his cruiser and wear the uniform and wear the gun."

Manning remains on leave due to post-traumatic stress disorder and won't likely be able to work as a police officer again.

'Scandalous, frivolous, vexatious'

Attorneys for the Hamilton Police Services Board and De Caire say in a court filing that the suit is an "attempt to dress up a defamation claim" and that the details Manning included in his original filing are "scandalous, frivolous or vexatious or are otherwise an abuse of the process of the court."

Its statement of defence argues Manning goes beyond what is appropriate for such a filing and that much of the content of his filing is irrelevant to the claim.

They argue that Manning should be pursuing his complaint via a union grievance process rather than a lawsuit, and that De Caire is not "vicariously liable" for actions of officers.

The Ministry of the Attorney General, on behalf of the OPP, has notified Manning it believes it and the commissioner should not be named in the suit, since it actually makes no allegations against the OPP and seeks no damages from it. It also advises it will defend itself if not removed.

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the board, said attorneys have been directed to "aggressively fight this." He declined to comment further.

A spokesman for the Attorney General declined to comment while the matter is before the courts. Hamilton Police Service also declined comment for the same reason.

A chain reaction

Manning says the fight outside the bar plays a central role in the trajectory of his tumultuous career in Hamilton.

After arriving in Canada from a career in policing in England, Manning was assigned to infiltrate the Hells Angels and traditional organized crime networks in the city, but says he wasn't given special undercover training by Hamilton Police Service for such a weighty mission.

The event on the patio would give him night terrors, he says. He'd feel vulnerable, alleging his cover team didn't have his back.

And, he says, he'd be sent out again undercover in just a week's time.

The suit alleges a high-ranking officer was worried Manning would reveal the officer's "years of criminal wrongdoing," and so he told a Hamilton crime family that Manning was working undercover and to "scare off" Manning – leading to that day on the patio.

'An anonymous phone call'

A photograph of Paul Manning from his undercover days with Hamilton Police Service. (Paul Manning)

In the ensuing months and years, Manning alleges he found out about crooked relationships and cronyism. One example: He alleges two officers have been skimming reward money from Crime Stoppers since the 1980s.

When he spoke up, he was told to butt out and act more like a brother, he says in the lawsuit, which he said exacerbated his paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He alleges that soon after he notified then-Chief Glenn De Caire he'd be suing in 2014, 21 officers stormed his house – paying him a visit with a search warrant in hand to search his property for marijuana.

They cited "an anonymous phone call to the drug office and a high hydro bill," the lawsuit alleges.

All they found and seized were his notebooks in a safe, he alleges – notes he kept from his time undercover he'd planned to use as evidence.

And the Mannings say their detention in the house during the search amounts to false imprisonment.

"They bully him at work, he goes off sick and then he comes home and then they come and harass him and bully his wife and his kids," Sabina Manning said.

Fighting for his life

That day on the patio, Manning said he escaped the four men and got to his undercover apartment.

He says he got word from his supervising detective that the men had left and there was a car to pick him up outside.

But when Manning went outside, the four men were back and armed with knives.

Mr. Manning would pose a risk to himself, the public and the department if he attempts to go back to policing.- Psychological assessment cited in lawsuit

One said he had a gun in his pocket.

He says in the lawsuit that he was fighting for his life for 10 minutes. The brothers said they wanted to kill him, he says.

He looked up and saw a colleague from his cover team driving by without stopping to help, he alleges.

In the struggle, one of the knives got so close to stabbing Manning that it cut his t-shirt, he says in the lawsuit.

'Significant distrust and paranoia'

He says his mental health worsened. He had nightmares of the day on James North.

He told higher-ups he was having thoughts of self-harm. "My mind is starting to wander to thoughts of violence against myself and others," according to a letter he quotes in his statement of claim.

All the while, he said, he was still working 24/7 – returning to uniform patrol in 2007 – and "no one relieved him of his firearm."

It's all been enough for one of the psychologists that Manning has seen to conclude that his career as a policeman is over, and his prospects for finding another gig is "somewhat bleak," too, according to assessments quoted in the lawsuit.

"Mr. Manning would pose a risk to himself, the public and the department if he attempts to go back to policing," according to a 2013 report from a psychologist, quoted in the lawsuit.

"This is because of the nature of the experience he had while working undercover, as well as the significant distrust and paranoia that had developed following how the department handled his case."

In 2015, Manning was arrested and charged for sending a e-mail while off-duty to a Hamilton Police Association lawyer demanding an apology for "intentional factual errors" that Manning alleges the lawyer had included in a letter related to Manning's issues with the service.

The charges came because Manning said in the letter that if he wasn't offered an apology, he would obtain one "under duress" from the lawyer at home, according to the suit.

When he was arrested on charges of threatening bodily harm, police found a firearm not stored safely, which led to additional charges.

The threat charge was dropped in June when Manning agreed to a peace bond and a ban on possessing a firearm for five years.

'The system is absolutely disgusting'

Now, Sabina hopes her three children are too young to understand all that's going on, but she fears the oldest knows some of it. One of their daughters found out at school her dad had been arrested from other students, the suit says. 

Manning said he doesn't have a problem with the majority of the officers in Hamilton, those who are "hardworking and risk their lives for the members of that community," he said. "It's how the service treats people with PTSD and it's how the service treats whistleblowers."

Sabina said it's hard not to conflate all that's happened with her family's move to Canada for Paul's job.

"As an immigrant, I think we've been through the worst times you could possibly have," she said. "Moving to a new country, he goes undercover and you find out that the system in Canada is absolutely disgusting.

"I'm just saying, we are very replaceable."

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett