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Former East St. Paul police chief Harry Bakema said, 'I don't recall,' at least 20 times during two hours of testimony on Monday. ((CBC))

The former chief of the East St. Paul police force wouldn't use the word "botched," but he admitted his force could have done a better job of investigating a deadly crash involving an off-duty Winnipeg police officer.

Harry Bakema headed the small-town police force on Feb. 25, 2005, the morning Crystal Taman, 40, was killed when her car was rear-ended by off-duty police officer Derek Harvey-Zenk.

On Tuesday, cellphone records were entered into evidence that indicate Bakema made a call to a car dealership at 9:45 a.m., less than three hours after the accident, while he was still at the scene of the collision.

Gene Zazelenchuk, the lawyer for the Taman family, asked Bakema why he would have made the call, suggesting that perhaps it had to do with the fact that Harvey-Zenk had been driving a Dodge vehicle.

"I don't know, sir. I have no idea," Bakema replied.

The exchange appeared to catch even the judge overseeing the inquiry, Roger Salhany, off guard.

"For some reason at 9:44 a.m., in the midst of this investigation, there's a call to Royal Dodge Jeep Chrysler, and you have no recollection whatsoever?"  Salhany said.

"I have no recollection of what it is, but … I do have a vehicle that's a Chrysler, and I did deal at one time with Royal Dodge, so maybe then I called them about something, I don't know," Bakema said.

"You called them, in the middle of an investigation, about your vehicle?" Salhany said, incredulous.

"I really don't think so, sir. I have no idea," Bakema replied.

Cellphone records also indicate Bakema made numerous calls to the Winnipeg police division commander for District 13, where Harvey-Zenk worked. One conversation was more than seven minutes long.

During cross-examination, Bakema admitted that the division commander post was held at the time by Winnipeg's current chief of police, Keith McCaskill.  

When Zazelenchuk asked what Bakema and McCaskill would have been talking about for 4½ minutes at 11:20 a.m. that morning,  Bakema said he wanted to tell McCaskill that Harvey Zenk had been involved in a motor vehicle collision and that he should not be allowed to work that night.

'Rank failure of leadership'

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Harry Bakema told the inquiry he did not immediately recognize Derek Harvey-Zenk, a former colleague at the Winnipeg Police Service. ((CBC))

Earlier Tuesday, commission counsel Paciocco outlined problems with the investigation at the crash scene, including a lack of witness interviews, errors and omissions in the notes of Bakema and other officers and a failure to document evidence that Harvey-Zenk may have been drinking before the crash.

Evidence shows Bakema did not interview paramedics who examined Harvey-Zenk until a month after the accident, and only then because the Winnipeg police professional standards unit needed that evidence for a suspension hearing for Harvey-Zenk, Paciocco said.

"To some, it's going to appear that you either abdicated a role in this investigation because you didn't want to be involved with another police officer, or you actually set out to protect him," Paciocco said.

"I did not, sir," Bakema replied.

"At the very least, sir, it's going to appear to some that this was a rank failure of leadership. What's your comment to that, sir?"

"I think I did the best I could do for what I had there and my ability at that time," Bakema said.

'Didn't ask' about drinking

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Police photo of Crystal Taman's car after the crash on Feb. 25, 2005. ((Taman Inquiry))

Earlier Tuesday and on Monday, Paciocco grilled Bakema about inconsistencies in his notes and his recollections of the morning of the crash.

Bakema arrived at the accident scene and found Harvey-Zenk standing by his truck.

Harvey-Zenk quickly mentioned he was a police officer and Bakema recognized him as a former colleague from the days when the two both worked on the Winnipeg police force. Bakema didn't interview Harvey-Zenk at the scene and didn't even ask him whether he had been drinking.

"Why didn't you ask him if he had anything to drink?" Paciocco asked.

"He wasn't talking, really," Bakema said.

"How do you know how he would have responded to that question without putting it to him?" Paciocco fired back.

"I didn't ask him that," Bakema, a 32-year police veteran, replied.

Paciocco asked Bakema basic questions about who was in charge of the scene of the accident and how the investigation proceeded.

"Who was in charge of this accident investigation on site?" he asked.

"I guess myself," Bakema replied.

Paciocco asked if Bakema had a plan to deal with the chaotic scene, if he assigned his officers to go to the vehicles at the site, to interview witnesses, or to direct traffic.

Bakema said he did not; he didn't even know where his officers were at times, he said.

'You make your own bed'

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Derek Harvey-Zenk, in a photo filed as an exhibit at the inquiry.

Bakema said he "didn't really know" Harvey-Zenk, even though they had worked out of the same district police station in Winnipeg's North End. Despite claims by at least two witnesses on the scene who said they saw Bakema talking directly to Harvey-Zenk, he denied ever having a substantial conversation with the suspect.

Although he suspected Harvey-Zenk might have been impaired, Bakema said he did not test him for slurred speech or unsteady walking, nor did he put his head into Harvey-Zenk's truck to check for the odour of alcohol.

The inquiry has previously heard that Harvey-Zenk had been partying with colleagues before the crash. Other witnesses at the inquiry, including a paramedic and other officers, have said they smelled alcohol on him at the crash site.

Still, Bakema rejected suggestions he tried to protect Harvey-Zenk.

"I believe that no matter what, you make your own bed if you get into something like this, and I don't think there's any policeman out there that's going to throw their career away on somebody else's stupidity," he testified.

'I don't recall'

Former East St. Paul Const. Ken Graham previously testified that Bakema called the second-in-command on the force, then-Sgt. Norm Carter, who was Bakema's successor, to avoid any appearance of conflict in dealing with Harvey-Zenk.

Paciocco asked Bakema on Monday if that were true.

"I don't recall having the conversation with him," Bakema said. "You're saying could I have had that conversation? …. I could have."

The most consistent part of Bakema's testimony was his difficulty in remembering details of the morning of the crash, such as the exact location of vehicles, what times he wrote down in his notes, and specific conversations he had at the crash scene.

Bakema answered, "I don't recall," in response to questions to those matters; he said the phrase at least 20 times in his two hours of testimony Monday afternoon.

Lack of recall no surprise to Taman family

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An undated photo of Crystal Taman, filed as evidence in the inquiry examining the investigation into her death. ((Taman inquiry))

Crystal Taman's widower, Robert, listens to the testimony every day, and zeroed in on Bakema's poor memory.

"It just shows the operation of East St. Paul police, and how they did things," he said. "I think that as time goes on here, we'll see he doesn't recollect a lot more. But we'll wait and see."

Harvey-Zenk, also known as Derek Harveymordenzenk, was initially charged with refusing a breathalyzer test, impaired driving causing death and criminal negligence causing death, but those charges were dropped without explanation when he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death.

He received a conditional sentence of two years' house arrest and has since turned in his police badge.

The inquiry, led by Salhany, a former Ontario Superior Court justice, first examined the treatment of the Taman family by the court system and victims' services. That portion of the inquiry wrapped up in June.

The inquiry is now looking at the conduct of police involved in the investigation into the crash that killed Taman. It will also examine the conduct of Harvey-Zenk and other Winnipeg police officers before the crash, and how lawyers arrived at the plea agreement that spared him time behind bars.

Salhany is scheduled to deliver a final report to Manitoba's attorney general by Sept. 30.

With files from the Canadian Press