Thunder Bay·CBC Investigates

Police officer in Thunder Bay, Ont., promoted despite being subject of criminal investigation: sources, lawyer

The Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) promoted a senior officer who’s the subject of a criminal investigation, according to sources. The service in northern Ontario also is at the centre of human rights complaints and external investigations, while the 2022 process for promotions has faced union opposition.

4 people say OPP interviewed them about Michael Dimini, who told CBC he'll give a ‘fulsome statement’ in time

Michael Dimini, right, was a police constable when he became one of the first officers in Thunder Bay, Ont., to be outfitted with a body camera for a pilot project in 2018. He's shown here at the news conference announcing the program. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

A senior officer with the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) in northern Ontario was promoted to staff sergeant with the uniform patrol branch despite being investigated for allegations of criminal activity, according to sources who provided interviews to provincial police as part of an investigation.

Michael Dimini was promoted effective March 10, according to an internal email sent by police Chief Sylvie Hauth that was obtained by CBC News.

Dimini was among at least five officers who made sergeant or staff sergeant as part of a promotions competition, which came despite ongoing turmoil at the TBPS. That includes several external investigations into members and leaders in the service, growing human rights complaints against senior officers and the service's oversight board, and calls by Indigenous leaders for the disbandment of the force. Before the promotions process even began, it faced opposition from the union.

Now, current and former TBPS staff and members of the public say the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is investigating Dimini.

Four of those contacted by CBC News said they provided "extensive evidence" during hours of OPP interviews regarding allegations of improper conduct in the course of Dimini's police duties. The four spoke on the condition they not be named or their employment status be given, because of concerns about possible retaliation and fears for their safety.

"We're supposed to uphold the law and protect people, and I think he totally violated this [person's] rights," said a police officer who has worked with Dimini.

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An OPP spokesperson confirmed on Feb. 22 that "the OPP Criminal Investigation Branch has been assigned to ensure a complete, thorough and independent investigation into allegations related to members of the Thunder Bay Police Service." The spokesperson would not provide any details of the investigation, including when it may have started, and did not confirm if Dimini is a subject of the investigation.

Thunder Bay police spokesperson Chris Adams added the service also did not know who the OPP is investigating.

Still, sources said they are worried about speaking out because they believe others have faced retribution after bringing forward complaints about Dimini, and have not seen any disciplinary action taken against the senior officer.

After hearing about Dimini's promotion, a civilian source who was interviewed as part of the OPP investigation said "my trust is completely broken — like when I see a police car now, I think the worst, which is really sad because there's lots of [other officers] that are … working hard and want to do good."

Chantelle Bryson, a lawyer representing 12 officers and civilians who have or will be filing human rights complaints against the Thunder Bay Police Service, has called for Dimini to be suspended amid an Ontario Provincial Police investigation. Dimini was promoted to staff sergeant effective March 10, according to an internal obtained by CBC News. (Submitted by Chantelle Bryson)

While the OPP has not confirmed which member or members of the TBPS are being investigated, CBC News obtained an email from Thunder Bay-based lawyer Chantelle Bryson to Ontario's attorney general that's dated Dec. 1, 2021, and includes a range of allegations of "potential criminal conduct" by Dimini.

The email alleges Dimini engaged in criminal activities and they were ignored or covered up by senior officers in the force. 

"The allegations include assault, racial assault, drug dealing, affiliation with organized crime. The list goes on — intimidation, threats, vandalism," Bryson said in an interview with CBC News.

The lawyer represents 12 officers and civilians who have or will be filing human rights complaints against the TBPS. 

She claims that since the OPP investigation began, others have come forward to her with allegations of misconduct and potential criminal activity by Dimini. Bryson said she referred them all to the OPP as part of their investigation, although the OPP wouldn't confirm if they received this information from Bryson.

CBC News has not been able to independently verify these allegations. 

Dimini responds to CBC about allegations

A list of questions was sent by email and courier mail to Dimini about the wide-ranging allegations.

In an email, he responded: "There are many falsehoods and [inaccuracies] contained within the questions as you have presented them. I will not comment any further or agree to an interview at this time, in the interest of my mental health and well-being. I object to any inclusion of my statement in part. Should you wish to publish it, you must do so in [its] entirety. 

"However, when I am ready and able, I will provide you with [a] fulsome statement, including documented proof of the facts of the true story that you do not have."

It is not known how long Dimini has been working with the TBPS, but in 2018, he was nominated for a police service award for hero of the year after jumping into a river to save a woman's life, according to a nomination citation. 

Dimini was also one of the first officers to wear a body camera as part of the service's pilot project in 2018. In 2020, he was promoted from first-class constable to sergeant.

Lawyer calls for interim suspensions

As the OPP investigation continues, Bryson called for Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) to take immediate action and put in place "interim protections." 

The OCPC is a police watchdog agency with the power to suspend or fire a chief as well as the police oversight board, and has the authority to disband a police service. 

Since Feb. 10, the OCPC has been conducting its own investigation into the police force, with concerns about the TBPS management of discipline, the conduct of criminal investigations by its officers, and the ability of senior leadership to administer day-to-day operations. The concerns are based on a preliminary review conducted into the service after requests from Ontario's solicitor general and the Thunder Bay police board.

"The sheer scope of the allegations, and the nature of the allegations and the suspicious circumstances around no action ever being taken by the service leadership or the board, to us, demands interim protections," Bryson said.

She said those interim protections should include the suspension of Dimini pending the outcome of the OPP investigation.

Adams, the Thunder Bay police spokesperson, would not confirm if Dimini is currently working or is on leave, saying they do not confirm or deny leave to respect employees' privacy and in accordance with legislation.

Adams added the position now filled by Dimini is administrative staff sergeant with the uniform patrol branch, which assists the inspector responsible for that branch with administrative tasks. There are four other staff sergeants in the branch, which oversee day-to-day operations.

In response to questions about the ongoing OPP investigation, Adams said, "We do not know which person or persons are the subject of their investigation."

"There is a need for due process. The [Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario] complaints, the OCPC investigation and the OPP investigation need to run their course. This is paramount to ensuring a complete and substantial examination of all the facts and issues."

Alleged evidence on Dimini provided to OPP

In addition to being in an email to Ontario's attorney general, some of the allegations against Dimini are set out in three human rights complaints filed by Bryson's clients, naming senior members of the city police force.

None of the allegations have been tested or proven in court. 

Two of the human rights complaints, made by Const. Kerry Dunning, who is currently on leave from the force, and now-retired constable Kelly Walsh detail a November 2020 incident involving a woman in an apartment.

The complaints, filed in the fall of 2021, claim four officers responded to a call about stolen property. The officers were in the process of "calmly" resolving the situation when Dimini arrived at the scene, without being called, the complaints allege, and "demanded entrance to her apartment."

Despite her refusals, Dimini pushed his way into the apartment "without consent or lawful authority," which caused the situation to become "heated and chaotic," the complaints claim. They added that Dimini engaged in an "illegal search of the apartment," found "illegal drugs," and ordered an officer to arrest the woman for "drug offences, possession of stolen property and obstruction of police."

Dimini proceeded to file "a false report to justify the charges, which stood in direct contrast to the report accounts of the four attending officers," the complaints claim, adding the officers then shared their observations with provincial and federal Crown attorneys who later dropped the charges.

Court documents show all three charges against the woman were withdrawn in March 2021. But Jay Pakrashi, a spokesperson for the Thunder Bay Crown attorney's office, would only say, "It was felt that no reasonable prospect of conviction existed. The Crown's office does not typically provide the reasons for reaching such a decision."

The allegations have not been tested or proven in court, and the woman involved in the incident did not respond to an interview request by CBC News.

Adams told CBC News the incident was the subject of a Police Services Act investigation, which began as a "chief's complaint" and involved "a thorough examination of all the facts and issues."

The TBPS spokesperson added all involved officers provided written statements as part of the internal investigation, which is a requirement for all Police Services Act investigations, and said all allegations were reviewed and none were substantiated. The matter has since been closed, said Adams.

But Bryson cast her doubts on that investigation. She claims the internal investigation did not include interviews with any of the four officers who originally were called to the scene, including two of the officers she represents.

"I don't know what kind of investigation was undertaken when the four individual officers who were actually there were not interviewed," Bryson told CBC News.

Rights complaint mentions 'recycled phone'

A third Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario complaint, made by former police services board chair and current board member Georjann Morriseau, also one of Bryson's clients, details allegations that Dimini is a source of confidential information being leaked to "a notoriously racist Facebook page which regularly drives divisions on racial lines within the Thunder Bay community by posting racially charged court and police information."

The complaint claims Morriseau became aware of an incident in August 2020 where an officer received a "recycled phone" that previously belonged to Dimini. That officer received a text message from the operator of the Facebook page requesting "further 'good intel' from another officer who had previously been issued the phone, Sgt. Mike Dimini," the complaint alleges.

Georjann Morriseau of the Thunder Bay Police Services Board has filed Ontario human rights complaints against the board and senior members of the force. Details of Dimini's alleged conduct are included in her first complaint, filed in October 2021. (Georjann Morriseau/Facebook)

Morriseau brought this information to the deputy chief of the TBPS, but "did not request the service to take action given the board is not to interfere in police operations," the complaint says.

Investigating the leak of confidential information to the Facebook page has been a priority for Hauth, the complaint claims. But instead of investigating Dimini, the complaint alleges Morriseau as well as the person who told Morriseau about the text message to the recycled phone became the subjects of police investigations.

The police service did not respond to questions about these allegations against Dimini, including whether an internal investigation into the allegations was ever opened or if they were referred to an external body for investigation.

When asked why the police service opened an investigation into Morriseau, Adams said, "The investigation into a potential internal leak from the TBPS to a social media page is completely separate and had been ongoing prior to an investigation involving the board member."

Adams said the police service would not comment further, given the ongoing OCPC investigation.

Union head says promotions shouldn't have happened

With these allegations detailed in the human rights complaints, along with other external investigations, the Thunder Bay Police Association (TBPA) warned about the implications of moving ahead with the promotional process in the early months of 2022.

In a letter to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board in January that was obtained by CBC News, association president Colin Woods asked that the promotions process — set to close on Feb. 7 — be paused until the completion of the investigations.

"Although the TBPA would like to see our members promoted, we feel the current environment will not be conducive to a fair and transparent process," the letter said.

The promotions proceeded anyway, and the police service, its oversight board and the union all agreed it was done fairly and in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement.

But in an interview with CBC News on March 22, Woods said he believes the process should never have happened in the first place while active investigations are ongoing.

"What if something's, you know, found that [the promoted officers] did something wrong? And whether it's police charges or something — and that drastic penalty is now demotion — it wouldn't look good for those members."

The police services board should have intervened to request the chief hold off on the promotions, Woods added, given the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the service.

"That's what the board is there to do, is make sure that the service is being administered properly. And if they had some concerns about what was going on, they would say, well, 'Why are we going to go through this process right now?'"

Police board secretary John Hannam responded to that concern in an email, saying "while investigations are ongoing, the service continues to function and that includes people retiring, leaving positions open that operationally need to be filled."

Woods said he didn't believe there was "a big, drastic need to promote," and those operational roles could have been filled by acting members filling in as needed.

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