Sterling pleads not guilty


Courtesy of The Windsor Star

Colleen Sterling pleaded not guilty to 32 Police Services Act charges Saturday as her hearing began, six months after she was suspended with pay.

The Amherstburg officer is charged with 24 counts of discreditable conduct and eight counts of deceit. Two other counts were withdrawn at the start of the hearing.

She is accused of failing to report for duty, failing to attend, failing to account for time and knowingly making a false statement or wilfully or negligently making a false, misleading or inaccurate statement. The charges go back to the period between April 2006 and January 2011.

Prosecutor David Cowling said the Amherstburg police service is seeking Sterling’s termination. Sterling has been suspended with pay since Aug. 31, 2011.

The hearing, held on the weekend at the Amherstburg Police Service, saw two days of arguments and testimony on preliminary motions brought forward by the defence.

After lengthy submissions Saturday, hearing officer Morris Elbers denied two motions by the defence. One was a request for an emergency adjournment due to the fact that defence lawyer Patrick Ducharme was unable to attend the hearing because of his involvement in another trial in Toronto. Filling in for Ducharme, Evan Weber said circumstances had changed since Ducharme agreed to the weekend dates. He said Ducharme was in Toronto preparing to cross-examine a “critical” witness in Spain via video-conference.

Ducharme is working on a high-profile case, representing Windsor native Ned Maodus, who is one of five Toronto drug squad officers accused of obstructing justice, perjury, assault and extortion related to their work between 1997 and 2002.

But Cowling argued for the Amherstburg case to proceed. “We’re sitting on weekends now to keep this case going forward,” he said.

Cowling, a Toronto lawyer, is representing the police services board, while Elbers, a retired OPP superintendent, resides in Barrie. Both travelled to Amherstburg for the weekend hearing.

“Mr. Ducharme is certainly aware of his obligations,” Elbers said. “Now I see that the lengthy drive would inconvenience him.

“Mr. Ducharme did not take up the offer (of a teleconference earlier in the week) where we could have dealt with most of this,” Elbers said as he denied the request for a motion of adjournment.

Weber’s second motion sought a stay of proceedings. Weber said the defence had requested but not received the written report that initiated the complaint against Sterling. As well, they didn’t have statements from investigating officer Sgt. Don Brown, Chief Tim Berthiaume’s notes and any notes and reports from officers interviewed during the investigation of the complaint, he said.

Cowling said some of the material had been provided to the defence and he also argued that Ducharme had plenty of opportunity to request disclosure but chose to “lay in the weeds on this issue” until just before the hearing was to start.

“Disclosure is a two-way street and should not be used as an ambush tactic,” Cowling said.

Elbers said it has always been his practice to ensure disclosure occurs “at the earliest point and on an ongoing basis.”

“I have brought up disclosure at each and every teleconference … and no issue was raised by Mr. Ducharme.

“I don’t think it has any bearing or effect on the beginning of these proceedings.”

A third motion seeking a stay of proceedings was based on the defence’s claim that notice was served to Sterling after a six-month limit. Weber contends the hearing officer lacked jurisdiction to proceed. Elbers did not make a decision on the motion.

The hearing resumes March 3 at 9 a.m.


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