Edmonton police 'have been punishing me,' says man arrested over Denver boot

Derrick Cantwell appeared before the Law Enforcement Review Board on Monday to argue he never should have been charged with mischief and extortion for placing a Denver boot on a vehicle in a private parking lot. He has been charged four times and the case has never made it to court.

'I have been made to live as an accused criminal'

Derrick Cantwell argued to the Law Enforcement Review Board he should not have been repeatedly charged with mischief and extortion for putting Denver boots on illegally parked vehicles. (Sam Martin/CBC News)

On Monday morning in a downtown Edmonton office tower, Derrick Cantwell broke down and began to cry.

"I've been waiting three years for this day," Cantwell said.

The 55-year old was trying to convince three members of the Law Enforcement Review Board that Edmonton police should not have arrested him in November 2015 and charged him with mischief and extortion.

"I'm here today because I have to be," Cantwell tearfully told the panel. "Not because I want to be. Certainly not because I should be.

"My life has been unlawfully stolen from me, and I want it back."

In late 2015, Cantwell owned a business that targeted vehicles improperly parked in private lots. He was hired by property managers to immobilize vehicles with a device commonly known as a Denver boot. Each driver then had to pay him hundreds of dollars for the boot to be removed.

Edmonton police received a complaint from a driver in November 2015 and officers went to investigate at a private lot at 104th Avenue and 109th Street. Two constables arrested Cantwell and his co-worker. At first, the pair were charged with fraud. But after receiving advice from the Crown, police instead charged them with mischief and extortion.

'Game over, life over'

Cantwell said his life began to crumble after he was arrested.

"A business in three provinces was wiped out in one day," Cantwell told the LERB panel. "Game over. Life over. I was in shock at the arrest. Complete and utter shock."

Four days later, Cantwell filed a citizen complaint with Edmonton police, alleging he was unlawfully arrested and wrongfully charged as a result of a negligent investigation.

According to a letter police Chief Rod Knecht wrote to Cantwell on Sept. 27, 2016, which was obtained by CBC News, the professional standards branch investigated Cantwell's concerns and cleared the two arresting officers of any wrongdoing.

Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht wrote a letter to Derrick Cantwell in 2016 to let him know Cantwell's arresting officers would not be subject to a disciplinary hearing. (CBC)

Knecht concluded there was "no reasonable prospect of establishing the facts necessary to obtain a conviction ... for discreditable conduct against any EPS member."

Cantwell's appeal of Knecht's decision was heard at Monday's review board hearing.

Police policy halts Denver boot

In April 2016, the Edmonton Police Service announced through a news release it had developed a new policy to "stop the illegal practice of companies immobilizing vehicles on private property." Police obtained a legal opinion that determined "the act of placing an immobilization device on a vehicle by private companies or citizens constitutes a criminal offence of mischief.

"A second criminal charge of extortion may be appropriate when the vehicle owner is approached in the lot and forced to pay a fee before the device is removed," the police news release said.

The day that new policy was adopted was "the day the rule of law was totally abandoned," Cantwell said this week.

The Denver boot prevents drivers from moving their vehicles until they pay a fine to get it released. (Terry Reith/CBC News)

He said he declared bankruptcy five months after he was arrested, and paid a criminal lawyer $6,300 to defend him. But on the day of the trial, the Crown withdrew criminal charges against him.

Since then, Cantwell has been arrested and charged with mischief and extortion three more times by Edmonton police.

The second and third sets of charges were also withdrawn by the Crown.

"I've been under so much stress for three years," Cantwell said. "Every day when I wake up, it's groundhog day. Nothing changes. They have been punishing me."

The EPS policy on immobilization devices has been in place since April 2016, but has never been tested in court. The Edmonton  Police Commission found the policy was reasonable after Cantwell lodged a complaint about it.

Cantwell is now scheduled to go to court for a two-day trial in November on the fourth set of charges. He said in April a provincial court judge had ordered legal aid to cover his legal costs.

Meanwhile, the father of four said the actions of police and the Crown have taken a heavy toll on him.

"For two years and nine months now, I have been made to live as an accused criminal," Cantwell told the LERB panel. "At my core, on a daily basis, I don't feel good. As if somebody could break down my door at any second, and I have no rights."

Cantwell said he has been treated for depression three time and is currently "in the middle of a clinical depression." He said he is "bankrupt, of no fixed address and living in poverty.

"I'm not mentally well," he said.

Review board reserves decision

In their submissions to the LERB, lawyers for the police chief and the two original arresting officers said they thought Knecht made the right call when he decided not to send the case to a disciplinary hearing.

"Really what the complaint is, is with EPS policy," lawyer Malcolm Jones told the panel. "This really isn't a disciplinary issue at all."

Review board chair David Loukidelis reserved the panel's decision on Cantwell's appeal.

He told Cantwell the board would try to reach a decision as quickly as possible.

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston