Crown prosecutors at the trial of five former Toronto police drug squad officers opened their case on Monday acknowledging their key witnesses are “disreputable and unsavoury” people involved in the drug trade — many with criminal records.
But Crown lawyer John Pearson told the jury they were victimized by police.
“Many [of the witnesses] have criminal records. No one condones the actions of people involved with illegal drug activity,” Pearson told the court. “But their stories will be confirmed through documents, police records, other witnesses and notebooks the accused officers themselves created.”
Monday marks the start of the trial of John Schertzer, Steve Correia, Raymond Pollard, Joseph Miched and Ned Maodus, each charged in a conspiracy and a string of other charges in which the Crown alleges the five — along with four additional officers who are named but not charged as unindicted co-conspirators: Kim Donison, Gregory Forestall, Jon Reid and Jason Kondo — beat, robbed and illegally hunted drug suspects, then falsified official police memo books and even lied in court to cover their crimes.
All five former officers have pleaded not guilty.
Crown alleges trumped up string of busts
The Crown on Monday called its first witness, Christopher Quigley, an admitted pot dealer who said he was arrested, beaten and threatened with more violence if he didn’t give up the location of drugs and cash.
The Crown alleges that a number of plainclothes officers on Team 3 of the Toronto Police Central Field Command drug squad in April of 1998 arrested Quigley in a high school parking lot in possession of a bag full of stolen sunglasses. They took him back to Toronto’s 53 Police Division in the Yonge and Eglinton area, but instead of being placed in a holding cell, Quigley was taken to the third floor and held in custody in the offices of the drug squad.
The Crown alleges Quigley was booked at 53 Division with no signs of injuries, but nine hours later he was entered into a cell with a bleeding head and spitting up blood. In court on Monday, Quigley described being beaten repeatedly by police over the course of nine hours. Photos taken by Quigley that show bruises to his face and arm were entered into evidence.
Quigley said he was forced to tell officers where to find a stash of marijuana in his 555 Eglinton Ave. W. apartment. The officers then went to the home of Quigley’s mother and retrieved a safe-deposit box key.
Quigley alleges the officers removed $55,000 in cash from the box that was never returned.
The Crown alleges the five officers on trial fabricated a story, falsely claiming Quigley had tried to assault a police officer while in their custody and suffered his injuries while being subdued. However, the Crown says there was no record of injuries going into the station, and when Quigley was finally taken to a holding cell, uniformed booking officers on duty immediately called paramedics and Quigley was taken to Sunnybrook Hospital.
The Crown says it will rely on evidence of emergency room doctors about Quigley’s injuries, and a bank manager’s testimony about the removal of cash from the safe-deposit box.
The Crown alleges the drug squad officers conducted an illegal search of Larry Vacon’s apartment at 119A Jefferson Ave. in the west Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale, where they seized cocaine and cash that was never properly accounted for.
The Crown says beyond the claims of Vacon, who is an admitted drug dealer, prosecutors will rely on evidence of Vacon’s wife, a building supervisor, and discrepancies in the officers’ notebooks compared with arrest records at the time a legal search warrant was actually issued.
The Crown says deceptions and coverups by the officers subverted and undermined the course of justice in the city.
The Crown alleges the accused officers used Andy Ioakim, a low-level cocaine dealer, to set up a major drug smuggling deal between Montreal and Toronto, and moved in once the drugs and money were being exchanged in Scarborough.
Montreal drug dealer Aida Fagundo (who now lives in Spain and is expected to appear at the trial via video link) alleges she was beaten by officers, and had $10,000 cash and diamond earrings worth $20,000 stolen. The Crown has charged the defendants with conspiracy to obstruct justice — not assault, or theft of cash and jewelry — alleging that the drug officers concocted a story, falsified their notes, and failed to reveal the truth about how they set up the entire operation.
The officers arrested Fagundo but are alleged to have obstructed justice by failing to record in their official memo books or disclose to the federal Department of Justice prosecutors the identity and role Ioakim played in the police operation. Such actions, if proven, are illegal as police have a duty to disclose the true facts of how they arrested Fagundo.
Ioakim was never charged with anything. Fagundo pleaded guilty to trafficking in cocaine and was sentenced to 2½ years in penitentiary, never knowing how police caught on and swooped in to arrest her.
Quigley is expected to resume testimony on Tuesday when he's expected to face cross examination by lawyers for the five accused.