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Paid police suspensions in the spotlight with recent court cases

Five Peel Regional police officers were in court Monday; four were sentenced and all are still receiving paycheques. Under current legislation, police chiefs cannot suspend an officer without pay even if that officer faces serious criminal charges. Lama Nicolas reports.

TORONTO — Five Peel Regional Police officers were in court today — all currently suspended with pay.

Sgt. Bernard Webber, Const. Darren Barden and Const. Lance Kerec received a suspended sentence and 12 month probation including community service.

The trio was convicted of assault causing bodily harm and unlawful confinement in April in the beating case of a 62-year-old man.

READ MORE: Four police officers charged in off-duty fight

They were off-duty at a Christmas party in Nov. 2012 at a Brampton banquet hall. A fellow female police officer had allegedly complained the man inappropriately touched her.

Court heard the three officers “took matters into their own hands,” dragged the man into a washroom and viciously kicked and punched him.

“I thought it was important that it be known that my client and other officers were not considered rogue officers,” said lawyer Paul O’Marra.

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“This is an off duty incident and it’s unfortunate.”

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Const. Carlton Watson was also sentenced to five years in jail he’s facing a total of 45 charges including fraud, obstruct justice and breach of trust.

He was allegedly involved in an accident scam that swindled more than $1 million from insurance companies.

The investigation into his case began in Oct. 2010 and since then he’s collecting a steady paycheque for a total of around $500,000.

“I want to assure the community that I take allegations of misconduct very seriously and hold officers accountable for their actions,” Peel Regional Police Chief Jennifer Evans said.

“As a result of this conviction and custodial sentence, I will be seeking his dismissal from this police service.”

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Another Peel police officer, a 30-year veteran of the force, Det. Craig Wattier also had a brief court appearance.

He’s out on bail and facing child pornography charges. He’s also still on payroll.

Another high profile case — that of Toronto police constable James Forcillo — was also before courts today, he’s charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in July 2013.

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READ MORE: James Forcillo faces additional charge in death of Sammy Yatim

“As we’ve seen in high profile cases, sometimes these cases do drag if not months, sometimes years and the officers continue to be paid because we don’t have ability to suspend the pay, no matter the circumstance,” Joe Couto, spokesman for the Ontario Association Of Chiefs Of Police.

Under current legislation, police chiefs do not have the authority to suspend an officer without pay even if that officer is facing serious criminal charges, but they’re calling on the provincial government to have that changed.

“I have made it very clear that when we open the Police Services Act, which we hope will be able to table new piece of legislation in the spring of 2016, that’s one of the issues that will be addressed in it,” Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi.

Until then, paid police suspensions will continue to cost Ontario taxpayers. Those in the force say the Police Services Act was never intended to be a shield for the guilty, it’s to protect the innocent.

“I hope the public stands behind us,” says Peel Regional Police Staff Sgt. Dan Richardson. “And know most of us are out there doing the best that we can for them.”