Winnipeg police officer acquitted on impaired driving charge

Andrew Tighe, a 23-year member of the Winnipeg Police Service, was found not guilty Thursday by a provincial judge, who said the evidence presented by the Crown was circumstantial and did not prove that Tighe was operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Andrew Tighe one of five Winnipeg officers charged last year

Andrew Tighe, a 23-year member of the Winnipeg Police Service, was found not guilty of impaired driving Thursday. (Robert Short/CBC)

A Winnipeg police officer charged with impaired driving last year has been acquitted.

Andrew Tighe, a 23-year member of the Winnipeg Police Service, was found not guilty Thursday by a provincial judge, who said the evidence presented by the Crown was circumstantial and the Crown could not prove that Tighe was operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Judge Robert Heinrichs outlined several reasons in his oral decision Thursday morning, including the lack of eyewitness testimony to corroborate evidence given by the arresting officer.

"This was no doubt one of the worst days of Andrew Tighe's life," Heinrich said in his oral decision before outlining what he had heard during the course of the trial.

This included testimony from the arresting officer, who said on the morning of June 3, 2017, she witnessed Tighe acting confused after his car stalled in the middle of the road. When she approached him, she noticed a "moderate smell" of alcohol on his breath.

However, Heinrichs noted, the testimony only offered the "impression" that Tighe was driving while impaired and gave no direct evidence that proved he was drunk while driving.

A second charge of refusing to give a breath sample was stayed by the Crown Thursday morning, before the judge came back with his decision.

​'Very happy with decision'

Lisa LaBossiere, Tighe's attorney, says there have always been questions concerning the evidence against her client.

"We have always concerns about the quality, reliability and sufficiency of the evidence that was being relied upon in the investigation," LaBossiere told CBC News.

"We are obviously very happy with this decision and he [Tighe] is happy to move forward with things."  

Heinrich's decision outlined the circumstances that led to Tighe's arrest.

According to testimony given at trial by the arresting officer, on the morning of Tighe's arrest, police were called to a street in the Elmwood area after a resident noticed a man sleeping in his car.

The caller was concerned as the car was in direct sunlight and large bottle of alcohol was visible.

Police ran the licence plate of the vehicle and knew it was a fellow officer, Heinrichs said.

When they arrived the car was gone, so the officers took off in the direction they believed Tighe would have travelled.

Empty beer found in officer's car

En route, they were flagged by a woman who said there was a car stalled in the road.

Tighe was seen dumping beer out at the side of his vehicle.

When the police officer approached Tighe, he told the officer that his vehicle was broken. The arresting officer said she tested the car and noticed it was stalled because it was out of gas. She testified that he seemed confused about why his car wouldn't start.

​CBC News has learned that the Winnipeg Police Service's protocol of making public the names of officers charged with criminal offences was not followed at least three times this year. 3:04

She also found a nearly empty can of beer in the cupholder and two other empty beer cans in the car.

Neither the man who made the first call to police nor the woman who flagged down police testified at the trial, Heinrich said.

The other officer on the scene did not testify.

'All of this is troubling'

"The constable who did testify did not see Andrew drive," he said. "[She] did not see him sway or stumble … stale beer is not a sign of impairment."

He also noted that nothing said by Tighe was recorded in the officer's notes.

"All of this is troubling, that a veteran Winnipeg officer would be engaged in this activity," he said, "But the totality … I find the Crown has not proven [its case] beyond a reasonable doubt."

A spokesperson for Winnipeg police declined to comment on the judge's decision.

"It is not for us to comment on Andrew's acquittal — this was a court decision, which our service respects," she said. 

Tighe among five officers charged

Tighe was one of five police Winnipeg police officers charged with impaired driving last year.

Police came under heavy scrutiny following a fatal hit-and-run in October that saw off-duty officer Const. Justin Holz charged with a number of offences, including driving while intoxicated, in connection with the death of  Cody Severight, 23.

Const. Justin Holz was charged with a number of offences, including driving while intoxicated, in connection with the death of Cody Severight, 23. (Cody Severight/Facebook)

After two other officers were arrested for impaired driving the following month, police Chief Danny Smyth told media that police always publicly disclose when an officer is charged.

However, he quickly had to backpedal after it was revealed that two other officers, including Tighe, were charged last year and their names were not disclosed.

The other was Jason Garrett, who was charged in February of 2017. His matter is still before the courts. According to a transcript of his last court appearance in June, he is expected to enter a guilty plea and be sentenced in September. 

Holz is next due in court Sept. 17.

The name of the fifth officer charged last year has not been publicly disclosed. 

2nd officer given curative discharge

Michael Hawley, 49, an eight-year member of the service, was one of the officers charged in November and pleaded guilty to impaired driving in July. Following a joint recommendation, Hawley was given a curative discharge — a special type of discharge akin to a conditional discharge.

It is specifically for those charged with impaired driving who prove they need treatment for addiction.

The sentence prohibits Hawley from driving for one year and he must abstain from alcohol for two years. He also must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, maintain a sponsor and enrol in a followup program at St. Raphael Wellness Centre.

Other charges against Hawley were stayed.

A Winnipeg police spokesperson said Hawley is not on active duty with police and has been assigned alternate duties.

About the Author

Kristin Annable

Reporter

Kristin Annable is a member of CBC's investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at kristin.annable@cbc.ca