It doesn't look good for the four T.O. cops charged with manslaughter in the baton beating death of Otto Vass last week. Or does it?The police watchdog Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has the testimony of several eyewitnesses to the violent altercation that left Vass dead outside a west-end 7 Eleven. A camera inside the convenience store apparently captured the drama on tape. This case, however, will be anything but open-and-shut.
For cop-watchers, it's eerily similar to another police beating death, that of Kenneth Allen a decade ago.
Eyewitnesses saw cops beating Allen outside 52 Division. And there was video evidence -- a camera inside the cop shop -- too. Still, Constable Paul Van Seters, the officer charged with criminal negligence causing death, was cleared. A botched autopsy raised enough reasonable doubt.
That the special prosecutions branch of the attorney general's office was reluctant to prosecute had a lot to do with Van Seters' acquittal.
It's why the Vass family lawyer, Julian Falconer, has called on the AG's office to mount a rigorous prosecution this time.
But there are already signs that no lawyer in the unit wants anything to do with Vass. The AG has had to recruit a prosecutor from Picton to do the dirty work.
The chances of a conviction, even if the Crown can present overwhelming evidence, are also slim. Take it from Ian Scott, the province's former top cop prosecutor. As he told me before he left the unit for private practice two years ago, society is not prepared to accept the idea that police do wrong, let alone send them to jail. So much for that crazy notion called justice.
The cops have already circled the wagons, with the PR spinning well underway.
Chief Julian Fantino was quick off the mark with a statement expressing his "disappointment" at the charges. What happened to police accountability, Julie?
Police union head Craig Bromell, meanwhile, is readying the troops for an ugly battle.
Word is, Austin Cooper, the legal eagle who's handled the union's toughest cases in the past, including Van Seters', will be replaced.
The feeling in union ranks is that he came too close to losing in the police shooting death of Hugh Dawson. The officer in that case pumped 11 bullets into Dawson as he sat seat-belted in his car. The same police officer was acquitted years earlier in the shooting death of another black man. It would all seem so ironic, if it weren't so tragic.