Vancouver police investigating alleged racist messages shared by current and former Nelson Police Department officers have concluded there is enough evidence to consider disciplinary measures.
A joint statement by the City of Nelson and NPD said Wednesday that the investigation led by the Vancouver Police Department has found evidence that substantiates alleged sharing of racist comments and memes by eight officers in a private WhatsApp chat group between 2018 and 2020.
Two members still serving with NPD have been cleared of wrongdoing, but the remaining six face discreditable conduct allegations while one member is also facing a neglect of duty allegation.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, an independent civilian oversight body for complaints against B.C.’s municipal departments, confirmed the evidence will now be reviewed by a senior VPD officer acting as the disciplinary authority who may either clear the officers or recommend penalties that could include dismissal.
There’s no timeline for the recommendations to be made. OPCC deputy commissioner Andrea Spindler told the Nelson Star in an email that the wait for recommendations can be delayed by the complexity of the case, availability of council, requests for further investigation or procedural rights afforded to the officers involved. Spindler declined to comment further while the evidence was under review.
Even if officers are found to have breached the Police Act, there’s no guarantee the public ever learns which officers were involved.
That only happens if OPCC commissioner Clayton Pecknold finds errors in the disciplinary authority’s ruling. In that case, a retired judge is appointed to re-evaluate the case.
If no misconduct is established by the disciplinary authority but Pecknold disagrees with the ruling, a section 117 review of the Police Act would make discipline and investigative details public, but protect officers’ names.
The OPCC could also order a Review on the Record, which doesn’t hinge in on misconduct findings and can lead to disclosure of identities if it is determined to be in the public interest.
Finally, a public hearing may also be ordered by the OPCC. Officers aren’t compelled to testify, but they would be identified and verdicts made public.
NPD Chief Fisher ordered an OPCC review of the allegations against his officers on Feb. 3, 2022, but details of the investigation weren’t made public until they were leaked in July.
Since then, the NPD has been shaken by another OPCC investigation as well as the deaths of two members.
In November, the department confirmed Sgt. Nate Holt is being investigated for using excessive force during an incident on June 10, 2021. That public disclosure was prompted by a video posted to Facebook by Nelson resident Ron Bendle, who showed his bruised face and alleged Holt was at fault. Bendle did not provide any other details about the incident.
Then on Jan. 9, Det. Wade Tittemore and Const. Mathieu Nolet were skiing off-duty in an area near Kaslo when they were caught in an avalanche. Tittemore died on scene and Nolet died later in the month due to his injuries.
Fisher said in a statement Wednesday he does not believe the officers’ conduct should reflect the 126-year-old department.
“Our force has been through a lot already this year, and although these findings are troublesome, we are determined to learn from this and grow as an organization.”