OPP officer punished after delays allow driver to evade prosecution in fatal Kingsville crash
'Clearly there is damage to the public trust and confidence in the police,' says hearing officer
An Essex County OPP officer has been slapped with a cut in pay because of "inexplicable" investigative delays into a fatal collision, allowing the at-fault driver to "evade criminal prosecution."
OPP Constable Rene Tamminga received a penalty of 120 hours to be worked without compensation. An OPP hearing officer released those findings in January, following a complaint by the victim's wife.
"In this matter, the reputation of the OPP has clearly been damaged," said OPP Inspector Shawn Nash in his decision. "It is not too much to ask the police to do their job by investigating the matter and holding people accountable by bringing them to justice."
Man dies, wife suffers serious injuries
On April 9, 2017 there was a crash in Kingsville involving a vehicle and a motorcycle. The man on the bike died days later, and his wife suffered serious injuries and eventually had her leg amputated below the knee.
Tamminga was assigned to investigate. At the time, he was with the OPP traffic management unit and had 31 years of policing experience under his belt.
He determined the driver of the vehicle was at fault, not the couple on the motorcycle.
Four months after the collision, Tamminga said the at-fault driver would be charged with careless driving, as he believed there was "insufficient grounds to lay a criminal charge," according to hearing documents.
Then in September, a month later, he made an about-face and decided there should be a criminal charge of dangerous driving. However, a charge wasn't laid at the time.
Charge laid 10 months after crash
It wasn't until February 4, 2018 when Tamminga laid that criminal charge — 10 months after the life-altering collision.
The first scheduled court appearance for this case never happened in late-March of 2018 because Tamminga didn't submit a court brief.
Concern OPP's reputation tarnished
The Crown Attorney's office began asking Tamminga's superior officer questions about why the document wasn't filed, further delaying the process.
"Issues like this quickly tarnish the reputation of the OPP and are preventable," said Staff Sgt. Sakalo in an email, outlined in hearing documents.
A deputy crown attorney called the delays in this case "inexplicable." And in July, 2018 they decided to no longer pursue the case because there's not "a reasonable prospect of conviction" due to the investigative delay.
Victim unable to access supports due to delays
The delay also had an impact on the victim, and she wasn't entitled to support from the Victim Witness Assistance Program because Tamminga "failed to properly investigate the incident, and lay appropriate charges in a timely manner."
The victim contacted the Office Of Independent Police Review Director alleging that Tamminga failed to conduct a thorough investigation. She said many of her messages and emails went unanswered when inquiring about the status of the investigation.
The OPP Professional Standards Bureau got involved in September, 2018. During that process, Tamminga did shed some light on his behaviour.
Officer explains heavy caseload, personal issues
He indicated he didn't have an "excuse for his actions" but said he was overwhelmed around the time of the crash. Tamminga said he was the lead investigator in a number of fatal crashes and had a heavy caseload. He also said there were "significant" personal issues and he was coping with a colleague's suicide.
None of those issues were brought to the attention of his supervisors, he said.
Elie Labaky, an Ottawa lawyer who specializes in police law, said the officer's explanation speaks to bigger issues when it comes to the culture of policing.
"In policing, to ask for help is still perceived today, although there are a lot of resources, still perceived as a sign of weakness," said Labaky.
After reviewing the case, he said there's also "some degree of blame" to be put on the OPP as an organization.
"Policing has become an administrative machine that is so focused on generating numbers, keeping costs down and results up — do more with less. I don't believe the officer in this case is alone to blame," said Labaky.
Then roughly a year later, in October, 2019, Tamminga pleaded guilty to neglect of duty.
The hearing officer imposed a penalty for Tamminga to forfeit 120 hours of work without compensation.
"PC Tamminga's neglect of duty directly allowed the at-fault driver to evade criminal prosecution," said OPP Inspector Shawn Nash in his decision.
Officer had 'exemplary career' prior to delays
However, prior to this incident Nash said Tamminga had an "exemplary career" and should be "commended for his prior work history."
In the victim's submitted statement, she described how she was further victimized by Tamminga's misconduct.
"She was misled and ignored. [She] now feels uneasy when she sees a police officer and admits she has lost trust in the police. Clearly there is damage to the public trust and confidence in the police in this matter," said Nash in his decision.
In an email to CBC News, Essex County Detachment Commander Inspector Glenn Miller wouldn't speak specifically about the incident or agree to an interview.
"Given the size of the Ontario Provincial Police, serious breaches of the law/behavioural standards are rare," said Miller.
"Members of the Ontario Provincial Police found to have broken the law or behavioural standards will be subject to appropriate discipline including possible demotion and dismissal depending on the circumstances," he said.