A B.C. police officer who had been forbidden to communicate with a witness in a homicide investigation, but allegedly wrote a letter to her anyways, has now been found guilty of discreditable conduct, according to B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
A retired judge has now been appointed to review Brian Gateley’s case, after the police complaint commissioner found that a one-day suspension without pay “is not proportionate to the seriousness of the misconduct.”
The matter stems from the case of Arlene Westervelt, who died while canoeing with her husband Bert Westervelt on Okanagan Lake in 2016.
Gateley, the officer in question, knew Bert and allegedly had Arlene’s cellphone hacked at his request using RCMP resources.
Bert was later charged with Arlene’s second-degree murder in 2019, although that charge was later stayed. He has always maintained his innocence.
Eventually, Gateley’s actions would be the subject of an internal RCMP investigation. Global News obtained a copy of the conduct letter alleging Gateley had Arlene’s phone unlocked using a tool called “Cellebrite” for “personal or unauthorized reasons.”
He was also accused of providing his personal opinion to investigators in a potential conflict of interest.
Gateley has previously denied any wrongdoing.
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In the letter he allegedly sent to Arlene’s sister, Debbie Hennig, Gateley admitted to having the phone hacked but said he only did so after he was assured by investigators that Arlene’s death was being treated as an accident.
In a response to a civil lawsuit launched by Arlene’s family, the government said that on Feb. 1, 2019, RCMP found Gateley guilty of engaging in a potential conflict of interest and misusing RCMP IT equipment.
One month later, Gateley retired from RCMP, according to his civil court filings. He also noted that there was a “perception of a conflict of interest; no actual or potential conflict of interest was identified,” in his civil claim response.
The former Mountie then went on to get a job with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU), also known as B.C.’s anti-gang agency. He worked within the Organized Crime Agency.
According to the OPCC case file, Gateley’s supervisors met with him in December 2020 and warned him not to have contact with any witnesses in Arlene’s death investigation.
Gateley allegedly wrote the letter explaining his side of the story to Arlene’s sister two months later.
The Vancouver Police Department was appointed to investigate Gateley’s actions.
It found that Gateley committed discreditable conduct when he “communicated with a witness in a homicide investigation in contravention of the direct orders of superior officers and supervisors,” according to the OPCC report.
“The discipline authority noted that Sgt. Gateley was a 34-year police veteran, previously having been employed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and had ‘minimized his role’ in the alleged misconduct by repeatedly asserting that he had never disobeyed directions given to him,” the OPCC report says.
After the Vancouver Police Department suggested a one-day suspension, the police complaint commissioner wrote: “The low level of disciplinary and corrective measures proposed by the discipline authority are not proportionate to the seriousness of the misconduct in all the circumstances, including the planned and premediated decision to ignore the directions of his supervisors in the context of his experience and the serious circumstances of the matter.”
The OPCC report also claimed that Gateley accepted the facts and findings of the discipline authority.
Retired provincial court judge James Threlfall has been appointed as an adjudicator in the next proceedings.
Meanwhile, there are also questions about why Gateley was hired at CFSEU after his alleged misconduct with RCMP.
Gateley’s conduct letter was signed by Asst. Comm. Kevin Hackett, who also happened to be the chief officer of B.C’s Organized Crime Agency at the time. That’s where Gateley landed his next job.
According to a report to the Organized Crime Agency’s board, there was a subsequent complaint about the adequacy of its vetting process.
The report said that an in-depth review found that the selection committee followed the Organized Crime Agency’s policies.
“The selection committee was composed of a hiring manager, supervisor and human resources representative as specified in the policy, none of whom were on the board of governance,” the report says.
“The selection committee members were unaware that the officer had unresolved code of conduct allegations.”
The report also noted that the organized crime agency has since amended its hiring policies and now requires reference checks for both internal and external candidates. It said that in this case, reference checks were not conducted on Gateley.
“In response to the investigation of this complaint, the Organized Crime Agency of BC (OCABC) is also adopting the practice of requiring applicants for OCABC employment to sign a waiver to consent to the release of their personal information, including their service discipline record and ongoing code of conduct or Police Act complaints or grievances,” the report said.
Gateley has not yet responded to a request for comment.
–With files from Brennan Leffler