'A rush to judgment': Union says police force unfairly fired Saskatoon cop on trial for on-duty assault
Former officer Jarett Gelowitz will learn his verdict on Wednesday
A court decision this week will not just decide the career of a former Saskatoon cop — it will also serve as a judgment on the Saskatoon Police Service's treatment of that disgraced officer, the man's union says.
On Wednesday, a Court of Queen's Bench judge will deliver a verdict in the case of Jarett Gelowitz, a former constable who was fired by the police force in the face of three on-duty assault allegations.
The verdict will come after the first two allegations against Gelowitz failed to be proven in court.
"I don't want to prejudice that [trial]. I don't know how that's going to play out. But if [it] comes back in an acquittal, then this officer that was presumably fired for three criminal court charges is now facing none of them and is being brutally vindicated," said Dean Pringle, the president of the Saskatoon Police Association.
A common assault charge against Gelowitz was stayed earlier this year. More recently, Crown prosecutors dropped an aggravated assault charge against Gelowitz following a preliminary inquiry. Both charges stemmed from on-duty arrests in early 2017.
A third assault charge against Gelowitz — arising from the arrest of a high-speed chase suspect in November 2016 — was the focus of a Court of Queen's Bench judge-only trial this past May.
Should the trial judge declare the 32-year-old Gelowitz innocent, the police association — the union for Saskatoon police officers — will be asking for Gelowitz's reinstatement, complete with repayment of lost wages and compensation for the union's legal fees.
A hearing is set for September.
"This guy's life is hanging in the balance," said Pringle. "He's got bills to pay and it could end up that he's an innocent man. It's really problematic for us and it's really uncharted territory."
Maintaining the public's confidence
The Saskatoon Police Service has declined to comment on Gelowitz's case until after the court and hearing process is over.
But in the August 2018 press release announcing his dismissal, the police service said it was firing Gelowitz to maintain the public trust.
"The Saskatoon Police Service relies on public confidence and works hard to sustain the trust citizens of Saskatoon have in our officers," Chief Troy Cooper said in the release. "We are accountable to the law and to the standards and expectations of our profession."
Gelowitz's recent trial heard about his arrest of Kehler Bear following a high-speed chase back in December 2016. Both legal teams agreed Gelowitz delivered a series of punches, kicks and knee strikes to Bear.
Watch video of the arrest below.
Lawyers were split on whether Gelowitz's actions amounted to assault. Gelowitz's defence attorney, Brad Mitchell, said he acted reasonably in a dangerous and urgent situation.
Crown prosecutor Jennifer Schmidt said the final knee strike was completely unnecessary.
'A bit rash'
The union doesn't think the police force gave Gelowitz a fair shake by firing him before his guilt or innocence was established.
"It was really a rush to judgment," said Pringle. "It's a bit rash to fire someone based on an allegation."
Pringle said that, before Cooper's appointment as police chief, it was common practice to meet with the officer and outline the punishment the force wanted to mete out — typically suspension with pay.
According to Pringle, Gelowitz was simply fired, though his dismissal followed a period during which Gelowitz was demoted to front-desk duty and received three internal complaints. Complaints "could be anything from being discourteous to making a mistake on a report," said Pringle.
Pringle said Gelowitz's firing means he never had a chance to defend himself against those complaints.
Judge needed time to wade through case
While Pringle said the police service was within its rights in The Police Act to fire Gelowitz, the presumption of innocence should have applied when it came to his criminal charges.
Pringle pointed to the case of Robert Brown, a Saskatoon officer accused in 2018 of off-duty sexual assault at a public event in 2017.
Brown was suspended with pay — in line with "past practice," according to Pringle — pending the outcome of his legal process. That process ended last May, when Brown pleaded guilty and resigned from the force.
"At least in that case the chief did it properly because at that time it was an unproven allegation and when it was founded, when Officer Brown pleaded guilty, then the chief had a decision to make whether he wanted to take him to a dismissal hearing and Officer Brown resigned," said Pringle.
Justice Richard Danyliuk, the judge who heard final arguments in Gelowitz's assault case in early May, said he needed time to think about the complex case.
His decision is expected Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Saskatoon's Court of Queen's Bench.
with files from Jason Warick