A pair of Lethbridge police officers have been demoted for one year after pleading guilty to misconduct charges earlier this month.
The joint submission put forward by Const. David Easter and Const. Matthew Rilkoff on Nov. 2, 2021, was accepted Tuesday afternoon, during the continuation of a disciplinary hearing.
The misconduct dates back to July of 2018, when a private group chat dubbed the ‘meme militia’ was created on the platform WhatsApp; the group shared texts and images that contravene LPS policy, including offensive depictions of other members of the police service and society in general, as well as pornography.
The presiding officer said Tuesday that one meme also named a political figure, adding that the matter has garnered such significant public interest that the damage to the reputation of the LPS will take years to repair.
Each officer was found guilty of two counts of discreditable conduct, and one count each of insubordination and neglect of duty. Two further counts were withdrawn.
Effective Dec. 1, 2021, both Easter and Rilkoff will be demoted from senior constables (level 2) to first class constables; the demotion will result in a loss of about $15,000 each in wages.
Easter and Rilkoff were both described in the hearing as having exceptional performance records. Easter has been an LPS member for more than 23 years, while Rilkoff has 11 years on the force.
Three other officers were also charged with misconduct in the matter: Const. Keon Woronuk and Const. Derek Riddel have now resigned, while Sgt. Jason Moulton — who created the ‘meme militia’ group — has his next hearing set for Jan. 10, 2022.
Sgt. Moulton pled guilty to five counts on Nov. 2, 2021, including two counts of discreditable conduct, two counts of neglect of duty, one count of insubordination, also pleading not guilty to one further count of discreditable conduct, while two additional counts were withdrawn.
In a statement on Tuesday, LPS said that in order to maintain the integrity of the process, there will be no further comment at this time.
“Once the matter has been concluded in its totality, police will be available to comment and an update outlining all the sanctions will also be provided to the public on the LPS website under Professional Standards,” the statement read.
The contents of the ‘meme militia’ chats, as well as the images that were distributed, are protected under a sealing order, but that order could be lifted when the proceedings are complete.