Lethbridge police officers demoted for tracking Alberta minister over park plans
CALGARY -- NDP MLA Shannon Phillips is calling for a special investigation into the actions of two members of the Lethbridge Police Service who tracked and photographed her in 2017.
Sgt. Jason Carrier and Const. Keon Woronuk have been demoted after admitting to using their positions as LPS members for personal and political reasons.
Carrier spotted the Lethbridge-West MLA, who served as environment minister at the time, at the Chef Stella Diner in April of 2017.
Phillips was meeting with stakeholders in the Castle region, an area which had been designated as a provincial park in January of that year, to discuss potential changes in the region including restrictions on off-road vehicle use.
Carrier sent a photograph of the meeting by text to Woronuk, who was the acting sergeant on duty, and Woronuk arrived at the diner a short time later.
According to the disciplinary hearing report, both LPS members were avid off-road vehicle riders and had a vested interest in the Castle region.
After taking additional photographs of Phillips' meeting, Woronuk told Carrier that he "would hate to see Phillips drive away from the restaurant and there was a reason to stop her."
Woronuk set up surveillance on one person Phillips had met with on the diner and ran a police check on the stakeholder. According to court documents, Woronuk sent a screen capture of the results to Carrier as well as another LPS member.
Photographs of Phillips' meeting at the diner were later posted to Facebook by Woronuk using the pseudonym 'Mike Corps'. The post included the names of all in attendance and including scathing criticism of Phillips and the NDP government.
After learning of the Facebook post, Phillips filed a complaint to the Calgary Police Service. The subsequent investigation unearthed the police database screenshot Woronuk had sent to the two other officers.
Shannon Phillips appears in an April 2019 photograph at her Lethbridge-West campaign office
The investigation was transferred to the Medicine Hat Police Service and charges were laid under the Police Act.
Both officers admitted to disciplinary misconduct charges and were demoted following a July 9 disciplinary hearing.
Phillips said she does "not believe this is a sufficient punishment for those officers."
“We need a full investigation," she said Tuesday. "People in this community deserve to feel safe, not just me but everyone.”
She added she will be reaching out to provincial Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer to request the appointment of a special investigator to review the matter.
"I did know there was dishonoured and discredited conduct among LPS officers targeted at me," said Phillips on Tuesday. "These revelations of someone tailing and targeting me are new, and it is disturbing."
"There is no question I have been worried about my own safety since 2017-18 when I was made aware that some of these problems were beginning. I just learnt today that there was an intent to intimidate me."
Phillips added that it's terrifying to realize that law enforcement would abuse their power and contravene her rights.
"We trust police officers to keep our communities safe. We look to them if we feel we are under threat. We don’t expect them to initiate these threats or use their position of authority to intimidate an elected official."
Schweitzer took to Twitter on Monday to express his outrage over the unacceptable behaviour of the officers.
Chief Scott Woods of the LPS released a statement Tuesday morning condemning the actions of the two officers. In his statement, Woods said:
"The actions for which these officers – Sgt. Jason Carrier and Cst. Keon Woronuk – were disciplined cannot be excused. The fact that they admitted to the charges of misconduct indicates that they acknowledge this reality. But acknowledging the wrong-doing does not take away the embarrassment and shame that has been brought upon the LPS by their actions, nor does it mitigate the justified anger and profound disappointment of Ms. Phillips and others in our community who have a right to expect so much better from their Police Service.
To paraphrase a general comment I made earlier this summer, while these officers have indeed failed in their duties, that failure does not reflect the values and duty of the Police Service to the community. Our challenge as a Service is to continue pursuing those values and that duty in spite of the human frailties and shortcomings displayed by these officers.
While I am deeply disappointed in the actions and attitudes of the officers, I do take some consolation in knowing they have been held accountable. The LPS took the initiative in referring the matter for investigation. The misconduct was investigated thoroughly by an outside agency, outside counsel was then retained to vigorously prosecute the charges and an experienced, well-respected retired senior officer from another Service was appointed to preside over the discipline hearings. The sanctions that were imposed against the officers were, to use the words of the Presiding Officer, “significant and on the high end of what may be considered appropriate.”
The two officers have been sanctioned for their individual misconduct, but all of us in the Police Service will bear the consequences. It now falls to us to regain the trust of the community that has been lost as a result of their actions. Our challenge, as police officers, is to carry on, striving to demonstrate the principled, bias-free policing that our Service should represent and that our community expects and deserves."