Montreal

Montreal police officer who rammed car in road rage incident won't face discipline

Roberto Tomarelli won't face discipline, even though a judge has already ruled he was 'negligent', 'reckless', and 'not credible'

Police ethics commission rejects complaint against officer Roberto Tomarelli

Jeffery Pokora told CBC he was dumbfounded when he heard Roberto Tomarelli, the Montreal police officer who rammed his car in 2015, wouldn't face any discipline over the incident. (CBC News)

A Montreal police officer who was off-duty when he rammed another man's car in 2015 will not face any discipline, even though a judge has already ruled officer Roberto Tomarelli was negligent, reckless and used unwarranted force the night of the incident.

In a decision released earlier this week, the police ethics commission tribunal concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to make a ruling in the case.

The man whose car was rammed, Jeffery Pokora, has been fighting for years to have Tomarelli face discipline.

Pokora told CBC in an interview Wednesday he couldn't believe it when he heard about the decision.

"I was completely dumbfounded. It felt like a big slap in the face," Pokora said.

"Where's the justice? Where's the fairness in that? The last six years of my life have been extremely difficult, with a lot of therapy. Meanwhile he's still been on the job, he's still collecting a paycheque, and probably hasn't learned anything," he continued.

The Montreal police confirmed to CBC Wednesday that Tomarelli is still employed by the force.

Video shows officer slamming car

In January 2015, Pokora was driving in LaSalle when he followed a man he believed was driving dangerously. Pokora didn't know that the man, Tomarelli, was an off-duty police officer.

Raw surveillance video shows off-duty officer Roberto Tomarelli reversing into Jeffery Pokora's car. The police ethics commission tribunal said it did not have jurisdiction to make a ruling in the case. 0:48

Pokora blocked Tomarelli's vehicle in a driveway and got out to confront him. After a verbal altercation, Pokora got back into his car and called 911. Surveillance video of the incident shows Tomarelli then getting into his own vehicle and ramming Pokora's car.

Tomarelli also called 911 and then chased Pokora in his vehicle. When more officers arrived, it was Pokora who was arrested and charged with uttering threats and harassment.

Judge excoriates officer

Tomarelli argued in court he felt Pokora was a threat to his safety.

Pokora was acquitted of all charges in 2017 and the judge in the case castigated Tomarelli.

"Agent Tomarelli was negligent, reckless, and the force with which he repeatedly charged at the vehicle of the defendant was completely unwarranted," municipal court judge Marc Renaud said in his decision.

"After having seen and heard the testimony of Agent Tomarelli, and having repeatedly viewed the video which partly captured these events, the tribunal does not believe Agent Tomarelli's groundless statements. He's just not credible," Renaud continued.

It's not the first time Tomarelli was involved in such an incident.

He was suspended for 10 days in 2016 after a ruling regarding a complaint filed with the ethics commission in 2012.

In that case, Tomarelli was found to have '"failed to use his patrol vehicle with prudence and discernment" when he struck a suspect who was fleeing on a bicycle.

Long fight for justice

Pokora has pursued justice on several fronts.

He filed a criminal complaint against Tomarelli but prosecutors ultimately decided not to lay charges

He filed a $120,000 lawsuit against Tomarelli and the city, but a superior court judge ruled the incident was a car accident and therefore Pokora could be compensated only by Quebec's automobile insurance board, the SAAQ. 

The SAAQ is appealing that decision.

Pokora said what's most important for him is the fact that Tomarelli is a police officer who abused his power, and that's why he's continued to pursue the the disciplinary complaint despite several setbacks.

"I'm trying to do this not just about me, but for everybody who might not have the courage or strength to do this, or to stick it out. Because that's the way change happens," he said.

Disciplinary complaint hit many roadblocks

Pokora initially filed a complaint with the ethics commission in 2015, but it was rejected because the commission said Tomarelli was off-duty at the time of the incident, and therefore it had no jurisdiction.

Pokora tried again in 2016 after he obtained the surveillance video of the incident. The commission once again rejected his complaint.

He filed a new complaint in 2017, after obtaining 911 calls showing that Tomarelli identified himself as a police officer the night of the incident, giving his badge number and requesting backup.

Again Pokora's complaint was rejected.

It was only after Judge Renaud's scathing comments about Tomarelli in his 2017 acquittal of Pokora that commission investigators agreed to take another look at the case.

Commission rejects complaint yet again

In a hearing before the ethics commission tribunal last month, Tomarelli's lawyers argued that commission investigators in fact had the surveillance tape and the 911 calls in their possession when Pokora filed his original complaint in 2015, but may have failed to fully review them.

In his decision released this week, tribunal judge Pierre Gagné agreed, and therefore concluded no new evidence had come forward.

Gagné said complaints against officers can't be brought more than once unless there's new evidence, and in the absence of that evidence, commission investigators never should have agreed to take another look at the case.

Gagné agreed to a request from Tomarelli's lawyers to reject Pokora's complaint once and for all.

Pokora feels he's the victim of incompetence on the part of the commission.

He says if he had to do it over again, he never would have followed Tomarelli that night in 2015.

"With the experience I have and the knowledge I have now, I wouldn't really encourage anybody to do it," Pokora said.

He said he hasn't given up hope. His lawsuit may yet proceed, and he plans to appeal to provincial politicians to see if they'll take an interest in his case.

"In my heart I can't let this go. I believe in the Canadian dream, and that Canadian justice is possible," Pokora said.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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