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Officer who committed assault has case closed

Feb 15 2012

Former police Sgt. George Chong will not face further discipline for assaulting a man during fingerprinting at Victoria police station, Stan Lowe, police complaint commissioner, said Tuesday.

Frank Blair of Victoria was arrested Jan. 15, 2010, for allegedly breaching a court-ordered curfew. He was later cleared when it became apparent that police records were out of date and the curfew was no longer in effect.

While being fingerprinted, Chong put Blair in a vascular neck restraint, rendering him unconscious. Blair fell to the floor and suffered head injuries.

Blair regained consciousness and the fingerprinting continued. He was then placed in a jail cell. After about 45 minutes, he was taken to hospital for treatment.

A week later, the Victoria Police Department asked the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner to investigate under the Police Act. Blair also lodged a complaint against Chong.

In July 2010, Crown counsel approved one count of assault against Chong. In February last year, Victoria police chief Jamie Graham asked Lowe to suspend the Police Act investigation in case it tainted the criminal proceeding.

"In granting the suspension, I was mindful that the criminal matter would explore the same issues as the Police Act matter," Lowe said in his decision.

The Police Act investigation resumed following Chong's trial. Last September, Graham found that Chong did not abuse his authority in fingerprinting Blair, but he did fail in his duty to care for Blair's injuries.

Chong was suspended for five days and put under the watch of a supervisor.

Two months later, a provincial court judge found Chong guilty of assault. It was Chong's second conviction - he pleaded guilty to an offduty assault in a road-rage incident in 2008.

The latest conviction contradicted Graham's assessment and raised concerns for Lowe.

"The applicable standard in criminal matters is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a high standard," Lowe said.

"The risk associated with dual proceedings is the potential for inconsistent outcomes, which has materialized in the present matter.

"With benefit of hindsight, I realize that I should not have acceded to the request to lift the suspension on the Police Act matter until a determination had been made in the criminal proceedings.

"If I had followed this process, the subsequent Police Act process would have had the benefit of the factual findings of the court as well as the law as it relates to dual proceedings in terms of outcome."

Chong's decision to retire, effective Feb. 1 this year, and the fact he's bound by a probation order were factors in the decision not to scrutinize his actions further.

"The public interest would not be served with the expense associated with this process, where the officer will no longer be engaged in policing," Lowe said.

The disciplinary proceeding was compromised by having it conclude before the criminal case finished, deputy commissioner Rollie Woods said Tuesday.

"At the beginning of an investigation, at least when there are serious allegations, you're not sure what's going to happen," Woods said.

"Chief Graham decided he wanted to proceed with the discipline proceeding and the commissioner agreed, but he's saying in his decision now that, in hindsight, it wasn't fair to [Graham] because he would have benefited from hearing all the evidence and then reading the judge's judgment," Woods said.

Graham may not have changed his mind "but there's a rule in law . . . that when you have two proceedings they should have the same outcome."

Chong's retirement made a further review by a retired provincial judge pointless, Woods said.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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