Manitoba to form unit to investigate police following inquiry into fatal crash

October 6, 2008

WINNIPEG Manitoba is promising to form an independent unit to review criminal allegations involving police and has asked RCMP to take over the force in a small community outside Winnipeg.

The moves announced Monday follow a damning inquiry report into a car crash caused by an off-duty constable that killed a mother of three.

The report into Crystal Taman's death also recommends that there be a further outside review into the conduct of a former police chief and officer involved in the crash investigation.

The recommendations were welcomed by Taman's family.

"Anybody who sat through that inquiry knows that it was black and white," said her husband, Robert Taman. "There were no shades of grey - there was negligence, there was incompetence."

Winnipeg constable Derek Harvey-Zenk was charged in February 2005 after he smashed into Taman's car at a red light. The crash was initially investigated by the East St. Paul police.

Attorney General Dave Chomiak pledged the province will implement all of the report's 14 recommendations, which include having the Mounties immediately take over management at East St. Paul and turn it into an RCMP detachment by the end of the year.

"The family of Crystal Taman and the public had important questions that cried out for answers," Chomiak said. "This report provides us with sound advice that will lead to improvement in the justice system."

The inquiry examined the investigation and prosecution of Harvey-Zenk, who has since resigned. It heard that he had spent the night drinking with other officers when he drove his truck into the rear of Taman's small convertible and that he didn't even try to stop.

He was originally charged with impaired driving causing death, refusing a breathalyzer and other offences. But most of the charges were stayed and he was sentenced to two years of house arrest after pleading guilty to criminal negligence causing death.

The sentence and plea bargain outraged the public, prompting the province to call the inquiry.

Chomiak said RCMP in British Columbia will further investigate the conduct of former East St. Paul police chief Harry Bakema and one-time officer Ken Graham.

In his report, inquiry commissioner Roger Salhany said the fact that Harvey-Zenk was a police officer affected the way the East St. Paul police handled the case.

He also noted that Harvey-Zenk once served under Bakema, and suggested the former chief gave "untrustworthy and inconsistent testimony" about whether he knew the accused and if he suspected that he had been drinking.

"The evidence...showed the East St. Paul Police Service investigation to be riddled with incompetence," wrote Salhany, a retired Ontario Superior Court judge.

"Sadly, in the case of Chief Harry Bakema, Const. Ken Graham and Const. Jason Woychuk, aspects of the investigation were also conducted in bad faith.

"It is clear that Bakema's conduct, indeed misconduct, had a devastating effect on the ability of a prosecutor to proceed with alcohol-related charges against Zenk."

Salhany also found fault with how independent prosecutor Martin Minuk handled the case.

The report says the plea bargain that Minuk made with the defence fell below the standards used by the Attorney General's Department.

"Minuk essentially got nothing in value in return for the deal he agreed to, but gave up much," Salhany wrote. But he also suggested that the prosecutor didn't have much to work with.

"Without question, the faulty investigation that had been conducted left Minuk with little chance of successfully prosecuting the alcohol-related offences."

The report also calls on the province to change its prosecution policies to highlight the importance of presenting a judge with as much information as possible about cases involving guilty pleas and plea bargains.

It also calls for formal training for independent prosecutors and a list of experienced criminal lawyers independent from Manitoba's Justice Department to provide advice to those prosecutors.

During the inquiry, Harvey-Zenk apologized to Taman's family through his lawyer.

Bob McDonald, lawyer for the Municipality of East St. Paul, also told the inquiry that the police probe was flawed and substandard, and the Taman family deserved better.

But he also suggested that other officers with the East St. Paul police force should not be blamed or subject to further investigation.