Feud over fleece jacket led to physical clash between two officers, court told

 

Andrew Seymour and Alexandra Zabjek, with files from, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Friday, March 17, 2006

A police disciplinary hearing yesterday opened the door on a simmering five-year feud between two Ottawa police officers that culminated in a physical confrontation over a missing fleece jacket.

Testifying during a Police Services Act hearing, retired Ottawa police Const. Melvin Thompson accused fellow Const. John Cosenzo of shoving him twice on April 8, 2004 during a heated exchange in the report room of the police office at the Ottawa Airport.

But Const. Cosenzo, who is charged with discreditable conduct as a result of the incident, maintained that he only grabbed Const. Thompson's forearms and never assaulted him.

The confrontation came after Const. Cosenzo accused the now- retired Const. Thompson of stealing his police-issued fleece jacket in February 2004, the latest in a string of disagreements between the two since 1999.

In addition to taking the jacket, Const. Cosenzo -- who has been on long term disability since April 16, 2004 -- also accused Const. Thompson during yesterday's hearing of breach of trust, neglect of duty and fraud and suggested his work habits put his co-workers at risk.

During cross-examination by Const. Cosenzo's lawyer Bryce Geoffrey, Const. Thompson acknowledged that he would occasionally take out an air mattress and go to sleep after 1 a.m. while working alone when on a double shift.

Const. Thompson also admitted he would sometimes take a shower while on duty and occasionally watched TV instead of working, but denied allegations he sometimes wouldn't show up for work at all on weekends and holidays when no supervisor was on duty.

Const. Cosenzo testified that Const. Thompson threatened to "get even" with him after he had previously filed complaints about Const. Thompson's behaviour that were ignored by his superior officers.

Const. Thompson is not facing any disciplinary action.

According to Const. Thompson, the assault occurred as he was sitting at a desk in the police office about to go off shift. That's when Const. Cosenzo, arriving for his afternoon shift, leaned toward him and said "I know what you've done, you f---ing thief."

Const. Cosenzo then came around the desk and shoved him, Const. Thompson testified. Following a heated and expletive laced argument, he said Const. Cosenzo shoved him a second time in the chest.

But Const. Cosenzo testified Const. Thompson taunted him by calling him a "screwball" shortly after he walked into the office. He then launched into a volley of his own insults, calling Const. Thompson a "liar, scum, coward."

According to Const. Cosenzo, Const. Thompson, who was sitting down, stood up, and in a brief physical confrontation, Const. Cosenzo grabbed Const. Thompson's forearms.

Ottawa police Staff Sgt. Dave Thomas, who supervises both officers, testified he witnessed Const. Cosenzo push Const. Thompson after walking into the report room to see what the commotion was about.

Staff Sgt. Thomas said Const. Cosenzo appeared enraged immediately following the confrontation. In a private meeting, Staff Sgt. Thomas said Const. Cosenzo expressed his "deep hatred" for Const. Thompson and indicated that if Const. Thompson died, "it wouldn't have bothered him."

Staff Sgt. Thomas testified he was concerned enough about the incident that he wrote a memo requesting Const. Cosenzo turn in his gun, keys and passes to the airport. He was also being transferred off airport duty to east division patrol, which made him "very upset," Staff Sgt. Thomas testified.

"He was on his feet and yelling at me," said Staff Sgt. Thomas. "I was more concerned about his demeanour than what he was saying. If I was dealing with a person on the street like that I would think they are going to attack me."

In his testimony, Const. Cosenzo portrayed himself as a dedicated police officer who was dishonoured after being accused of assault.

"I was fit for 18 years ... and now I'm some dangerous animal?" asked Const. Cosenzo, who at one point broke down crying during the proceedings.

After cleaning out his locker and having his gun taken away, Const. Cosenzo said Staff Sgt. Thomas "escorted" him away from the police office on April 16 in a humiliating fashion, leading him through a restricted corridor used by his co-workers.

The hearing, which continues today with final submissions, also heard testimony from other officers who worked in the airport with Const. Thompson and Const. Cosenzo, both the day of the incident and before.

One of those officers, retired Const. Michael Schryburt, who worked at the airport from 1999 to 2002, testified that Const. Thompson would sleep on the air mattress before midnight and spend half his shifts watching television.

 The Ottawa Citizen 2006

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