A stalled investigation into an alleged incident of police brutality has renewed concerns about the ability of Ontario's law enforcement watchdog to investigate officers who commit serious crimes.
In a press release sent out Wednesday afternoon, the Special Investigations Unit announced it was dropping its probe into a complaint filed by Tyrone Phillips. The 27-year-old man has accused the police of beating him unconscious during his arrest outside a Toronto nightclub on July 28, 2012.
SIU director Ian Scott says the investigation can go no further because the Toronto Police Service refuses to hand over a copy of Phillips's complaint.
"In my view, the refusal of the TPS to provide the SIU with a copy of the complainant's statement has impeded the Unit's ability to conduct an adequate investigation into this incident," Scott said in the release, "and may be a breach of Toronto Police Service's duty to fully co-operate with the Unit."
"As a result of the TPS's refusal to provide a copy of the complainant's statement to the SIU, I am closing this investigation."
Within minutes of the SIU release going out, police spokesperson Mark Pugash posted a bluntly-worded notice on the force's website denying that the TPS was being un-cooperative.
"Director Scott is wrong," Pugash said. "The document in question belongs to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director. We are not allowed to release a document which belongs to someone else without their express permission. If Mr. Scott wants that document, he must get it from the OIPRD."
Phillips first filed his complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director on August 8, 2012. The OIPRD then forwarded it to the police who were obliged to refer the matter to the SIU. But the force didn't provide the SIU with a copy of Phillips's statement, and Phillips himself didn't keep a version of the original.
"If a complainant were to request the OIPRD for a copy of his or her own complaint form, we would of course provide that to the complainant," said spokesperson Rosemary Parker.
It is unclear why Phillips has not obtained a copy of his complaint from the OIPRD and then forwarded it to the SIU. According to the unit's release, the watchdog asked Phillips to request a copy of his complaint from the TPS, but there is no mention of doing the same with the OIPRD. The SIU did not immediately return a request for clarification.
The SIU was founded by the province in 1990 to investigate incidents involving the police that result in death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault. Since its inception, it has rarely been free of criticism from those who say the unit is toothless and lacks independence from the police.
Last year the unit's impartiality was again called into question when Scott suspended one SIU investigator and disciplined two others for their conduct while working on the Michael Eligon case.
The investigator who was suspended was caught on tape wearing a police ring, which Scott said portrayed pro-police bias, and the two others were captured providing witnesses with alternate versions of the incident they were probing.
Eligon was shot to death by police on February 3, 2012 after absconding from the Toronto East General Hospital where he was being detained under the Mental Health Act. The SIU cleared the police of any wrongdoing in the incident.