- Our Town
Cops win fight to block conduct investigation
By James Keller, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER - Two officers who decided not to immediately warn a pregnant woman that her boyfriend may have been looking for a hit man to kill her in the days before she was murdered won't be investigated by British Columbia's police complaint commissioner, the province's Appeal Court has ruled.
The court released a ruling Monday overturning the complaint commissioner's decision to launch a formal investigation into the conduct of Det. Const. Craig Bentley and Staff Sgt. John Grywinski after concluding the commissioner missed an important deadline by more than a month.
Bentley received a tip on Nov. 17, 2005, from a confidential informant, who claimed a man named Amjad Khan offered him money to kill his girlfriend, 21-year-old Tasha Rossette.
Bentley shared the information with Grywinski, who was his supervisor, and the pair decided to investigate the threat before approaching Rossette.
By the time they went to Rossette's home on Nov. 22, she was already dead.
She had been stabbed 40 times and her throat was slit on Nov. 20 — three days after the officers received the tip. Khan has since been convicted of first-degree murder.
Rossette's mother filed a complaint, alleging the officers failed in their duties when they didn't warn Rossette about the threat.
The Vancouver Police Department's professional standards section dismissed the complaint in March 2009.
More than two months later, the province's police complaint commissioner issued an order that it was in the public interest to reopen the case. The order also noted the police department's professional standards section didn't have a copy of the results of an internal code-of-conduct review when it originally dismissed the complaint.
But the officers challenged the order in court, noting the Police Act sets a 30-day time limit to reopen such cases.
And while that deadline doesn't apply in cases where new evidence is available, the officers pointed out that the commissioner's order explicitly said the investigation was being reopened for public-interest reasons.
A lower court judge upheld the commissioner's order, concluding the commissioner meant to use the new-evidence provision in the law, even though it wasn't specifically mentioned.
But the B.C. Appeal Court said in an unanimous ruling that the earlier judge was wrong to read between the lines.
"The (officers) are entitled to know the basis on which the commissioner purported to exercise his jurisdiction to reopen the dismissed complaint against them," Justice Nicole Garson wrote for the three-member Appeal Court panel.
Because the commissioner didn't cite the new-evidence provision, he could only open the case reopened within 30-day deadline, wrote Garson.
"The order was made out of time and the commissioner was therefore without jurisdiction," the judgment stated.
A spokesperson for the commissioner couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
Khan and an alleged accomplice, Naim Saghir, were charged in Rossette's murder.
The Crown alleged at trial that Khan hired Saghir to kill Rossette because she was pregnant with his child and refused to have an abortion.
Khan and Saghir were each found guilty in 2008, but those convictions were overturned on appeal.
After a second trial last year, Khan was convicted of first-degree murder, but a judge concluded the Crown failed to prove Saghir was the killer and found him not guilty.
Follow @ByJamesKeller on Twitter