The Toronto police officer who arrested a woman on the basis of a Facebook identification is the subject of a misconduct investigation over her handling of the case.
Constable Kristal McCullough of 14 Division arrested 28-year old Toronto artist and bartender Lizz Aston in January after a woman claimed Aston had assaulted her at a Bloor St. bar. Aston was not in the bar at the time of the alleged assault on November 19, 2011 but two weeks after the incident her accuser pulled her photo from Facebook and told police she was the attacker.
Before making the arrest, McCullough evidently couldn't figure out Aston's whereabouts at the time of the crime. Charges were eventually withdrawn after Aston's lawyer provided evidence that she was not at the Piston on Bloor St. that night, but at a gallery opening on Queen St. West.
In an interview with NOW in April, Aston said she got the impression McCullough didn't believe she was guilty. She recalled that as the officer took her into custody she joked, "This will be a great story to tell your friends."
The professional standards unit of the Toronto Police Services appears to have initiated an internal misconduct investigation into McCullough's actions sometime between early April and about a month ago, following extensive media coverage of Aston's arrest.
Police spokesperson Const. Tony Vella would not comment last week on details of the investigation because it was still ongoing, but did confirm that the professional standards unit launched the investigation of its own accord.
Aston had considered filing a complaint against McCullough herself, but decided she couldn't afford a lawyer to help her. She had already incurred $3,000 in legal bills as a result of her arrest.
A finding of misconduct against McCullough would not result in criminal charges, but she could face disciplinary action under the Police Services Act. The penalty could range from demotion to loss of hours to outright dismissal from the force.
Vella said it's also possible McCullough will be exonerated.
"To be fair to the officer as well, they still need to figure out exactly [what happened]," Vella said. "The officer's stating she had reasonable grounds to believe the suspect was responsible."
Vella noted that the threshold for reasonable grounds for arrest is set much lower than the standard for a criminal conviction, which dictates there must be certainty beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused person is guilty.
Aston has been advised by the police not to talk about the ongoing investigation, but says that since the beginning of her ordeal she has only wanted the police to say sorry.
"All I asked for was basically an apology. I'm not out to ruin somebody's job," she says.
Given all the media attention the story has garnered, Aston is also surprised that her accuser has not reached out to her.
"The person who accused me, I know she knows about all of this but she still hasn't responded to the situation or addressed it at all, and I don't think she's going to, which I find really shocking" she says.
Aston is holding a fundraiser this Thursday, June 7 at the Piston to recoup the costs of her legal bills. She's hoping to turn her run-in with the police into "an arts-positive event," and has recruited local bands to play and will be raffling off artwork by Toronto artists.
She says any money raised over and above her legal costs will be given to charity.
A successful fundraiser would help reverse the financial damage caused by her mistaken arrest, but Aston says she's still feeling the effects of the ordeal.
"I'm still very frustrated," she says. "It's changed my perspective on a lot of things - the way I respond to situations, or going out in public. I still don't trust the police."