British Columbia

Surrey Six Mountie's misconduct involved boozy affair with a potential witness

It's been the better part of a decade since three Mounties were criminally charged for something they did very wrong during the investigation into the deadliest gangland shooting in B.C. history. The details of what they'd done were sealed by a publication ban until Wednesday afternoon.

Portions of publication ban lifted after challenge from CBC News, Global

Ex-RCMP Sgt. Derek Brassington pictured outside B.C. Provincial Court in 2013. Brassington was sentenced to two years less a day house arrest for having a sexual affair with a potential witness in the Surrey Six investigation for about six months in 2009. Two fellow officers have also been sentenced for their own misconduct during the investigation. (CBC)

A primary RCMP officer assigned to the deadliest gangland shooting in B.C. history had a months-long, alcohol-fuelled sexual affair with a key potential witness in the case, spanning several provinces in hotel rooms paid for by the force.

Then-Sgt. Derek Brassington described it himself when he apologized during a sentencing hearing that revealed details of the relationship earlier this month.

"I treated her like a girlfriend," the ex-officer said through sobs in B.C. Supreme Court.

Brassington admitted spending several dozen nights with her in hotel rooms paid for by the RCMP, getting drunk and having sex during the affair in 2009. Then 39, the ex-sergeant took the witness to bars and strip clubs during nights together.

He lied to hide their relationship from most colleagues, but told the court others were well aware after a while — and at least once, actively participated in the debauchery.

Brassington is one of three officers sentenced for their misconduct in the investigation this month. Two others admitted they knew about his affair and failed to report it during their own hearings on Wednesday.

The officers — Brassington, former Staff Sgt. David Attew and suspended Cpl. Danny Michaud — were charged with misconduct in 2011. They all pleaded guilty in separate hearings this month.
A body is loaded into a van following a multiple homicide in Surrey, B.C., on Oct. 21, 2007. Five people have been convicted in connection with the Surrey Six murders. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The details of the behaviour were a mystery for the better part of a decade, but details were revealed during their hearings. Those proceedings were initially protected by a publication ban, but portions of that ban were rescinded Wednesday afternoon after a challenge from CBC News and Global News.

The Surrey Six investigation continued and resulted in five murder convictions despite the officers' conduct, but court heard the individual officers' credibility as investigators was tarnished, and hours of police work needed to be redone.

During the hearings, the men also touched on what they were thinking at the time. Two said they weren't thinking clearly at all, crippled by the punishing stress and trauma of their jobs as principal investigators on high-profile cases to a point beyond reason.

In short, as Brassington would tell the court through tears: "I sold my soul for this."

Colossal investigation of 6 killings

Brassington, Attew and Michaud worked with the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) — a speciality homicide unit made up of officers from the RCMP and municipal police.

They were working on the Surrey Six file, a colossal investigation launched after six men were shot to death at a Surrey highrise on Oct. 19, 2007.

Attew and Brassington were principal investigators assigned to witness management, with Attew as Brassington's superior. Michaud worked in exhibits. 

Brassington pleaded guilty to breach of trust and compromising the integrity and safety of a witness involved in the mass-murder investigation on Jan. 18.

He did so, in short, by dating her for about six months.

Brassington speaks to journalists on Dec. 11, 2013. (CBC)

"I treated her like a girlfriend," Brassington told the court through sobs after his sentencing. "I didn't mean to fall in love with her."

Brassington met the witness on June 6, 2009. She agreed to co-operate as a witness the next month.

Brassington, a brawny man described by colleagues as an "all-star" investigator, wrote a report explaining how crucial the witness would be to the investigation and was assigned to manage her as a witness.

In order to keep the witnesses on board and keep them out of gang life, the Crown explained, it was necessary for RCMP officers to stay in touch as the civilians established themselves in their new, secret homes — which sometimes meant flying to visit them in pairs.

At first, Brassington would sneak the witness back to her hotel room after his partner went to bed during those trips. They'd spend the night together before he snuck back to his own room by morning, undetected.

Then they got bold, and the public outings to bars and strip clubs began. 

Brassington also admitted to sexual activity with a third witness on one occasion.

Officer's relationship with suspect's girlfriend

Brassington and Attew were also assigned to manage another witness, identified in court documents as Person X.

Person X had confessed to his girlfriend that he was involved in the Surrey Six shootings. She encouraged him to turn himself in to police, and they both were recruited to the witness protection program.

It was Attew's job to ensure their continued co-operation, mainly by securing the girlfriend's trust. 

RCMP officers search property on Oct. 24, 2007 surrounding the apartment building where six people were killed. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

In April 2009, Brassington and Attew visited Person X's girlfriend at her new home. They got drunk at a bar and stayed until closing.

Later, Attew went to the girlfriend's hotel room alone. They ended up kissing, with Attew touching her over her clothes, but she rejected him when he tried to go further.

Court heard Person X nearly turned on police after he found out what Attew had done, risking his role as another key witness. He would ultimately continue to co-operate with the investigation.

Once, Brassington and Attew took Brassington's clandestine girlfriend to the bar where Person X's girlfriend worked. They spent $800 on alcohol that night, with Brassington's witness sitting on his lap in front of his superior officer.

Attew, whose marriage ended largely over the scandal, pleaded guilty to failing to maintain law and order in B.C., contrary to the RCMP Act, on Tuesday. He was sentenced to six months house arrest with conditions.

RCMP under enormous scrutiny

Another revelation from the sentencing hearings was that both Brassington and Attew were working on the Dziekanski investigation as well as the massive Surrey Six case.

Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant to Canada, died after he was Tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007 — five days before the Surrey murders.

The Dziekanski investigation brought the force under enormous scrutiny, and Brassington told the court he saw the murder case as a chance at redemption.

"Instead of restoring public trust and faith in the RCMP, I killed it," he told the court through sobs during an apology.

"I am sorry to everybody in this country that looks to the police to do what's right."

​Brassington's affair only ended for good when someone told RCMP what was happening in the winter of 2009. He and his wife would later divorce, and he left the family home he shared with their children. 

"As a dad I shouldn't have done this. As a father I shouldn't have done this. As a cop I shouldn't have done this," Brassington told the court.

The force asked the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate in February 2010. Michaud, the third officer ultimately charged, pleaded guilty to lying when he was asked if he knew about the affair.

He was sentenced to three months house arrest on the same offence as Attew on Tuesday. 

Brassington was sentenced to two years less a day house arrest under conditions. 

Five people have been convicted in connection with the Surrey Six murders.

About the Author

Rhianna Schmunk is a reporter for CBC News based in Vancouver. Reach her at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca or on Twitter.