A long-awaited verdict in the trial of Harold Bakema, a former Manitoba municipal police chief who was accused of perjury and obstruction of justice, was handed down in a Winnipeg court room on Friday.
Provincial Judge Kelly Moar acquitted Bakema of all three charges against him, including perjury, obstruction of justice and breach of trust.
According to the judge, there was not sufficient evidence to convict Bakema, who wept after the verdict was read.
Bakema, who led a now-defunct police force in East St. Paul, was charged in connection with a botched police investigation into a 2005 car crash that killed Crystal Taman.
The 40-year-old mother of three died after her car was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Derek Harvey-Zenk, who at the time was an officer with the Winnipeg Police Service.
Bakema was charged in 2010 following an external probe into how the East St. Paul police force handled the investigation into Taman's death.
A verdict from Moar was a long time coming: final arguments in the case were made in May 2012.
On Friday morning, Moar said the case was a difficult one because it hinged on evidence of police officers and there was a distinct lack of notes, which was a big factor.
With a lack of concrete evidence, Moar said he had to determine the credibility of witnesses in making his decision.
Moar said while he believed Bakema, who is now retired, was responsible for a botched investigation that did not mean he committed a criminal offence.
“Crystal Taman lost her life, not because of anything Harry Bakema did, but it’s because of what Harvey Morden Zenk did,” said Hymie Weinstein, Bakema’s lawyer.
Outside the courtroom, Robert Taman, Crystal Taman's husband, said he was very disappointed with the verdict.
"Lets just say, justice takes two steps backwards today. I think when we all look at what took place over the past eight and a half years, it's pretty clear," he said. "We've learned that something that is clear to the general public is sometimes foggy to the people who make the decisions and create our laws."
Going forward, Taman said he wants to see blood tests and breathalyzers mandatory for anyone involved in a fatal crash.
“Eight and a half years, and [I am] still deeply emotional to deal with this, and it’s a tough thing to deal with this again,” he told reporters. “Changes have to be made. This can happen to anyone out there, and you know what? It doesn’t have to.”
Inquiry finds holes in investigation
A provincial inquiry into the justice system's handling of Taman's death uncovered holes in the East St. Paul police force's investigation.
At the time of the fatal crash, Harvey-Zenk was off-duty and returning home from an all-night party with other officers.
Bakema was the senior officer at the scene of the collision. Witnesses testified during his trial that Bakema told them Harvey-Zenk was impaired.
Harvey-Zenk originally faced several charges, including impaired driving causing death, but all the charges — except for one count of dangerous driving causing death — were eventually stayed as part of a controversial plea bargain.
Court heard during the trial that Bakema and Harvey-Zenk knew each other when they were both Winnipeg police officers based in the city's North End.
Harvey-Zenk, who has since turned in his police badge, testified during Bakema's trial that he remembers nothing of the collision.
Bakema has been the only person to face criminal charges following the public inquiry.
The Manitoba government has since disbanded the East St. Paul police force and hired the RCMP to police the area, which is just north of Winnipeg.