Hamilton

Hamilton officer pleads guilty to discreditable conduct for drinking and driving

Media officer Const. Jerome Stewart will be demoted to constable second class for 12 months following a joint submission during a Police Services Act hearing Tuesday.

Demotion for Const. Jerome Stewart will cost him about $14.5K in salary

Hamilton police Const. Jerome Stewart will be demoted for 12 months after pleading guilty to discreditable conduct during a Police Services Act hearing Tuesday. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

A veteran Hamilton police officer has pleaded guilty to discreditable conduct after testing showed he had a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit when he crashed into a parked car.

Media officer Const. Jerome Stewart will be demoted to constable second class for 12 months following a joint submission during a Police Services Act hearing Tuesday.

Prosecutor Marco Visentini described it as a "lengthy and costly" demotion that will result in a loss of about $14,500 in salary.

"This has been the toughest period of my life knowing I've let a lot of people down," he said. Describing drinking and driving as the "biggest mistake of my life," Stewart thanked the service for support and promised it won't happen again.

The officer was off duty on the evening of July 26, 2018 when he drank alcohol during a barbecue at a friend's home, but had arranged for a ride home, according to an agreed statement of facts.

After arriving home, he ordered takeout and sent his son to pick it up. He gave his son a debit card to pay, but realized it might be deactivated so drove to the restaurant to meet him, the hearing heard. Around 11:20 p.m. Stewart lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a parked car.

The statement of facts says a witness heard squealing tires and saw a black car "fish-tail" before the collision on Cranbrook Drive. The witness reportedly asked Stewart if he was drunk, and the off-duty officer admitted he had consumed alcohol, read Visentini.

No injuries in crash

No one was injured in the crash, which caused minor property damage. Police arrived on scene and the hearing heard Stewart cooperated with officers throughout the process, telling them he had two drinks before the crash.

Stewart failed a breath test and was arrested and taken to a police detachment for further testing where a breath technician obtained a suitable sample around 1:35 a.m.

The first sample found 152 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. A second sample found 163 milligrams — more than double the legal limit of 80 ml, according to the statement of facts.

You're past these events now, and you can learn from them and continue to be positive, contributing member of the service as I expect you will be.- Hearing officer Jamie Anderson

Stewart was charged with operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. He pleaded guilty before the Ontario Court of Justice on Oct. 23 and was fined $1,200 and banned for driving for one year, the hearing heard.

Visentini pointed to Stewart's guilty pleas at the earliest possible opportunity in both the criminal case and at the police services act hearing, the fact that he cooperated with the investigation and had shown remorse as mitigating factors in the case.

He added he as little doubt the officer has learned from the process and "without a doubt I believe Const. Stewart will never be before this tribunal in the future."

But, he added, the potential loss of public trust in police is among the aggravating factors.

Officer praised as 'team player'

Defence lawyer K.C. Wysynski went into great detail on Stewart's long employment record, reading letters of support and performance reviews which she said described him, in part, as a "reliable, conscientious team player who regularly goes beyond what's expected of him."

The letters of support lay out how Stewart has been open with his experience, sharing what happened both informally with other officers "at any opportunity" and formally with recruits to try to prevent similar drinking and driving incidents in the future.

Wysynski also said Stewart continues to enjoy the support of the police service, quoting a performance review by chief Eric Girt completed this past month which stated "Jerome you have maintained your professionalism and focus on your tasks in media, making significant contributions in spite of your challenges. I appreciate this."

The lawyer described the crash as an "isolated incident" in 19-year police career that has had a significant impact on Stewart and his family, especially his mother who lives out of town and he has been unable to visit and care for because of the suspension of his licence.

"This resonates very deeply with him because he knows that time is fleeting," said Wysynski.

Hopes for a 'successful career'

Hearing officer Jamie Anderson said police officers are held to a higher standard and any penalty must signal to the public that the service will hold officers accountable for misconduct.

The Hamilton police superintendent commended Stewart for taking responsibility for his actions and accepted the joint submission, meaning the officer will be demoted for a year as of Sunday April 12.

"I expect you will have a successful career with the service following this period," Anderson added.

"You're past these events now, and you can learn from them and continue to be positive, contributing member of the service as I expect you will be."