After Emily posted a photo on Facebook of her new tattoo in October 2021, she was surprised to receive a message from then Medicine Hat police chief Mike Worden.
“He said, ‘Hey, I love your tattoo. Where did you get it done?’ It was small chit-chat like that,” said Emily, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
Emily said Worden began messaging her every day on Facebook. Soon, she said, Worden directed her to another Facebook account, for which he used a pseudonym. Then the conversations turned sexual, Emily said, and eventually so did their relationship.
Seven months later, at 4:05 p.m. on May 20, Worden sent an email to the Medicine Hat police staff, telling them he had informed the police commission the previous morning that he was retiring, effective immediately.
In the email, Worden said only that “this difficult decision” was for “personal and family reasons.”
Global News has learned Worden resigned after an investigation into a sexual relationship with Emily that also involved the exchange through Facebook of sometimes graphic sexual messages.
In screen captures of more than a dozen conversations between Worden and Emily obtained by Global News, Worden candidly describes his sexual proclivities and past encounters, including at parties with strangers.
Those same messages were provided to an independent investigator hired by a law firm retained by the Medicine Hat Police Commission.
Woman says police chief told her to delete sexual messages
In an interview, Emily said that in early March, Worden told her he was under investigation.
“And he kept telling me, ‘Delete everything, deny everything,’” she said. “‘OK well, what happens if I get contacted?” Emily said she asked Worden.
“He was like, ‘Deny it.’”
She said she deleted some of the messages but kept others. She wasn’t contacted by the investigator until early May, and she said she did not deny the relationship.
Worden declined an interview request. In an emailed statement, he said he had a consensual relationship with a woman and that the investigation found no wrongdoing.
Despite this, he said, “I tendered my resignation as I felt that the situation had impacted my ability to lead the MHPS with the professionalism that is deserving of the men and women of the MHPS, and the people of the City of Medicine Hat.
“My resignation was also made to provide me time to rebuild trust with my family.”
Worden did not address the allegation that he directed Emily to delete messages and deny the relationship.
Worden also said the investigation into his behaviour determined “that all interactions were consensual, and at no time was my position as chief or as a police officer a factor in the relationship.”
Yet Emily said at least some of the messages she received from Worden were sent during his work hours from a Facebook account in which Worden identified himself as the police chief.
Deletion of messages could be obstruction: expert
Although Worden and the commission said he had been cleared of any wrongdoing, a policing expert said the former chief’s directive to delete the messages and deny the relationship —if as alleged — could warrant a criminal investigation.
“(It’s) clear obstruction,” said Kash Heed, the former West Vancouver police chief who also served as British Columbia’s solicitor general.
“It is bordering on whether this is criminal obstruction, or obstruction under the regulations under the Alberta police act, but clearly, there is an obstruction here.”
Heed acknowledged a person’s private sex life has nothing to do with their work – but he said given the important and public-facing nature of their position, chiefs of police must exercise discretion that was absent in this case.
He said Worden, through his behaviour, created a situation in which potentially he could be blackmailed.
“When you’re the chief of police, you absolutely should not be engaging in this type of behaviour, putting yourself at risk of someone extorting what may have happened here, or utilizing some aspects, whether it’s through videotape or pictures,” Heed said.
“The possibility that a person could use that against a chief of police is very disturbing.”
Medicine Hat is a city of about 65,000 people, about 300 km southeast of Calgary. The police force employs 112 officers.
Worden became Medicine Hat police chief in January 2021 after a 25-year career with the Calgary Police Service, most recently as the service’s chief human resources officer. Before that, he was a superintendent overseeing operations, investigations, and administration as the Calgary police chief’s executive officer.
Chief cleared of wrongdoing
Both the police service and the commission declined interview requests from Global News. But in an emailed statement, the police commission said an officer made allegations of “non-workplace misconduct” in March 2022 and it hired a law firm, which in turn hired an independent investigator to conduct a review.
The commission said a summary report cleared Worden of any wrongdoing and Alberta’s solicitor general confirmed the commission followed the proper protocol. The summary report was not publicly released.
Heed said the police commission showed poor judgment by not immediately dealing with what would obviously become a public relations disaster for the police service.
“I think the commission has a lot of responsibility to bear here,” he said.
“And you have got to really look at, were they trying to cover this up a bit? Did they think the public would never be made aware of this? Did they think that they could control this so there is no embarrassment to the Medicine Hat police department?
“It has failed. And I think at the end of the day the cover-up may be worse than the activity that the chief committed.”