No conspiracy to protect officer involved in fatal crash, inquiry told

A former East St. Paul police constable denied at an inquiry on Monday that he conspired with other members of his department to protect a Winnipeg officer involved in a fatal car crash.
A roadside memorial honours Crystal Taman, 40, who was killed in a 2005 crash with an off-duty police officer. ((CBC))
A former East St. Paul police constable denied at an inquiry on Monday that he conspired with other members of his department to protect a Winnipeg officer involved in a fatal car crash.

Commission counsel David Paciocco put some tough questions to former constable Ken Graham on Monday at the inquiry, which is examining the investigation into the crash that killed Crystal Ann Taman, 40, in February 2005.

Taman's car was stopped at a traffic light at the Perimeter Highway and Highway 59 around 7 a.m. on Feb. 25, 2005, when her vehicle was rear-ended by Derek Harveymordenzenk, then an off-duty Winnipeg police officer who had spent the night partying with colleagues.

Paciocco asked Graham, one of the first officers at the crash scene, why his notes and those of then police chief Harry Bakema both omitted the same crucial information about officers who had noticed the smell of alcohol on Harveymordenzenk, and who had seized the police uniform from his truck moments after the accident occurred.

Graham denied it was done intentionally to protect Harveymordenzenk.

The former officer described a conversation he had with another East St. Paul police officer who attended the scene, Jason Woychuk, on the day of the crash.

"Woychuk came to me and had concern that he didn't want to be known as the cop that charged a Winnipeg member, because he wanted to get on with [the Winnipeg force]," he said.

"He didn't want to have that bad reputation, and he indicated to me on the way to the office that he could start to smell alcohol."

But Graham denied he had counselled Woychuk to leave that information out of his notes.

Woychuk is scheduled to testify later on Monday.

Avoided conflict of interest 

On Friday, Graham testified that Bakema took pains to avoid a conflict of interest when he learned a fellow police officer was the driver of the truck involved in the crash.

Graham said Bakema told him that he knew the driver of the truck, and so he called in another officer, Sgt. Norm Carter, to avoid any conflict of interest.

But Graham never told the RCMP about the conflict of interest when they re-investigated the case. He also insisted that Bakema told him he never smelled alcohol on Harveymordenzenk — an assertion that was also missing from Graham's notes at the time, and from his statement to the RCMP.

Graham no longer works as a constable with the East. St. Paul force.  He and Bakema now work together at a real estate office.

Last week, the inquiry heard from several witnesses, including a paramedic and an East St. Paul police constable, who testified they smelled alcohol on Harveymordenzenk's breath after the crash.

In addition, a Winnipeg police officer who is Taman's cousin told the inquiry that Bakema admitted to him just hours after the crash that the officer involved had been drunk.

Bakema is expected to testify at the inquest later this week.  Harveymordenzenk is also expected to take the stand in the coming weeks.

Sentenced to house arrest

The inquiry has heard Harveymordenzenk spent the night before the crash partying with as many as 20 other off-duty police officers.

None of the officers would tell investigators how much Harveymordenzenk had to drink that night, or even if he'd been drinking at all.

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 badge.

The inquiry, led by former Ontario Superior Court justice Roger Salhany, 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 Harveymordenzenk and other Winnipeg police officers before the crash, and how lawyers arrived at the plea agreement that spared Harveymordenzenk time behind bars.

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