A Police Services Act hearing has found two out of three Thunder Bay police drug unit officers guilty of unlawful and unnecessary exercise of authority.

Detective Sergeant William Wowchuck and Detective Constable Brad Bernst were both found guilty of the charge. Constable Ronald Popowich was found not guilty.

Hearing officer Morris Elbers dismissed a charge of discreditable conduct against all three officers.

The charges stem from the arrest of 50-year-old Richard Burns on September 7, 2011.


Seth Weinstein, defence lawyer for the three officers, leaves the Police Services Act hearing on Wednesday with Detective-Constable Brad Bernst beside him. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

The drug unit officers had been staking out a house suspected of being a drug trafficking site.  They saw several cars in the area, and decided to follow one of them. It was driven by Burns.  

Wowchuck and Bernst arrested Burns as he was entering a MoneyMart on Memorial Avenue, and accused him of possessing a controlled substance.  Popowich arrived on the scene after the arrest had already been made.

After a brief search, the officers found nothing and released Burns with no charges.

Hearing officer Morris Elbers said the police officers made a "rush decision" to arrest Burns and that they need to be more careful.

A disciplinary hearing for Wowchuck and Bernst will be held on October 10.


Prosecutor Bernd Richardt says he isn't surprised by the ruling. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Prosecutor Bernd Richardt told CBC he wasn't surprised by Elbers' ruling.

"I think it simply reinforces that the officers need to be cautious, they need to have solid evidence before they arrest someone," he said.

The defence lawyer for the all three officers, Seth Weinstein, declined to comment, saying it wouldn't be appropriate until after the disciplinary hearing.