Saskatoon

Rehiring ex-constable Jarett Gelowitz will hurt public's trust in Saskatoon police, John Howard Society says

The Saskatoon Police Service's decision to offer fired ex-constable Jarett Gelowitz his job back comes at the risk of eroding the trust the police force has worked hard to gain, the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan says.

Gelowitz would not immediately return to street if draft agreement is accepted

Jarett Gelowitz, centre, waits for his Police Act hearing to begin Monday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The Saskatoon Police Service's decision to offer fired ex-constable Jarett Gelowitz his job back comes at the risk of eroding the trust the police force has worked hard to gain, the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan says.

On Monday, the police service signalled its desire to reinstate Gelowitz. The 32-year-old former officer was fired from the force a year ago amidst three allegations of on-duty assault, as well as newly disclosed disciplinary offences.

Gelowitz has since been cleared of the criminal charges.

Shawn Fraser, the CEO of the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, commended the police service for taking Gelowitz's criminal charges seriously. 

"We have to have faith the justice system worked the way it should," he said. 

But of Gelowitz's reinstatement — which still needs to be approved by a hearing officer — Fraser added: "This is a very public case and it means something to people, and I think there will be some costs to the trust that Saskatoon police spent a lot of time trying to build with the communities they serve.

"This is going to have some kind of negative effect on that relationship."

Would not go back on street

The terms of Gelowitz's reinstatement, reached over the weekend, were read out at a Police Act hearing in Saskatoon's Park Town Hotel Monday morning.

According to the agreement, Gelowitz would be reinstated immediately but not put back on the street until "he is deemed fit to return to active duty" by police Chief Troy Cooper.

Instead, he would be placed on administrative duty.

The job would not be at the service centre inside Saskatoon police headquarters where Gelowitz worked for a time before his firing. He incurred some disciplinary offences there that were read out during the public hearing Monday.

Those offences, which Gelowitz admitted to as part of the agreement, included:

  • Neglect of duty and discreditable conduct relating to a purse he received at the service centre.
  • Discreditable conduct for the removal and destruction of a picture from the workspace of a special constable.
  • Neglect of duty for failing to show up for work.

Gelowitz also admitted to abuse of authority relating to "using excessive force" during an arrest. 

The disciplinary offences would remain on his service record for two to five years and he would remain on work probation for one year.

Decision reserved 

Hearing officer Jay Watson reserved his decision on the agreement until he could look over an agreed statement of facts more thoroughly. He said he did not expect that decision to take long. 

The police service said at the time of Gelowitz's firing that he was not fit for duty and went on to describe three alleged assaults between November 2016 and April 2017. He had been on the force for 11 years. 

"Although the matters of the Criminal Code charges have yet to be completed through the judicial process, the decision to dismiss was made based on maintaining public trust," said a statement issued at the time of Gelowitz's firing. 

No convictions

The first two charges were withdrawn and Gelowitz was acquitted last month of the third charge after a trial judge said Gelowitz had been reasonable in applying force to a suspect who refused to surrender after a high-speed chase.

That final decision prompted Gelowitz's supporters, including a large family group attending court, to say the police service had rushed to judgment. 

The Police Act hearing had been scheduled for two weeks before negotiations over Gelowitz's return bore fruit over the weekend. The hearing was held up by the court process on Gelowitz's criminal charges. It was to be the first Police Act hearing in 12 years to deal with a Saskatoon officer fired for either "incompetence or unsuitability" as detailed in Section 60 of Saskatchewan's Police Act.

After Gelowitz's acquittal last month, Cooper said in a statement that "the decision to dismiss [Gelowitz] was based on unsuitability for service and not based on criminal proceedings."

Cooper added that there remained matters under the Police Act that needed to be dealt with during the hearing. 

Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper said Gelowitz was not fired because of the criminal charges, but for 'unsuitability for service.' (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

A spokesperson for the police service said Cooper would address the media once Watson approved the agreement. 

Brad Mitchell, Gelowitz's lawyer, declined to comment until that same juncture. 

Union opposed firing 

Dean Pringle, the president of the Saskatoon Police Association, previously told CBC News that after the alleged assaults, Gelowitz was initially taken off the street and reassigned to a front-desk position. 

Pringle said Gelowitz received three internal complaints at that time, and that the complaints "could be anything from being discourteous to making a mistake on a report."

Pringle said Gelowitz should never have been fired. Instead, the association felt Gelowitz should have been suspended with pay pending the outcome of his hearing. 

Should Watson reject the agreement and the hearing proceed, "the burden of proof lies with" Cooper, according to the act.

Firing Gelowitz was one of Cooper's first major decisions after he became police chief in the spring of 2018. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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