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RCMP need to do better when investigating complaints

Dean Bennett, Pincher Creek, AB (Canadian Press) – Long before RCMP Const. Mike Ferguson was convicted of shooting a prisoner to death in a holding cell, he was known around the office as an angry man with an explosive temper.

He challenged fellow officers to fist fights, told off his sergeant, got into a shoving match with a firearms instructor and railed against francophones.

He was advised to get anger management counselling. He never did and no one followed up, provincial court Judge Derek Redman said in a fatality inquiry report released Tuesday.

“Although this concern was identified well before (the fatal shooting), it was not dealt with in a timely and effective manner,” wrote Redman.

The judge urged that all future internal RCMP complaints be investigated thoroughly and within specific timelines.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Marianne Ryan said that has already been done.
“The RCMP has made significant changes over the past decade to prevent this sort of profoundly sad circumstance from happening again,” Ryan, who is head of criminal investigations in Alberta, said in a release.

“(Alberta) RCMP has a system in place to identify, track, monitor and hold accountable those employees whose behaviour has the potential to affect their ability to carry out their duties in a safe manner.”

The fatality inquiry report into Darren Varley’s death in a holding cell at the Pincher Creek detachment in southern Alberta comes almost 12 years after the shooting in October 1999.

Ferguson had arrested Varley for public drunkenness and, in an scuffle in the cell, shot the 26-year-old trucker twice with a service weapon — once in the chest and once in the head. Varley was declared dead in hospital just over a day later.

Ferguson, a 19-year-veteran, was convicted of manslaughter five years later and after three trials. He said he fired in self-defence after Varley went for his gun. He left the force after his conviction.

Ferguson was excused from testifying at the inquiry, which was held to make recommendations on how to prevent the same thing from happening again. His psychologist said having to appear would worsen Ferguson’s depression and post-traumatic stress.

Redman said it was clear well before the shooting that Ferguson had anger management issues.

The inquiry was told Ferguson bullied his colleagues. He frequently hectored a francophone officer and told her if she wasn’t a woman he’d “deck her.”
He publicly complained about French people, the inquiry was told, and said francophone RCMP officers were ineffective in all-anglophone detachment areas.

He once bragged about making a fellow officer “ask nicely” to get him to move out of his way.

He told a staffer she was lousy at her job, and when the sergeant intervened in the subsequent shouting match, he told off the sergeant.

“The secretarial staff and some of the members are uncomfortable in the presence of Const. Ferguson because he may explode and lose his temper at any time,” one internal investigator wrote in his findings.

In the community, Ferguson coached kids in basketball. He once chest-bumped a referee for making what he thought was a bad call. He then threatened him by telling him he was a police officer. When the ref complained, Ferguson grabbed and twisted his arm.

Ferguson’s firearms instructor said the constable displayed a know-it-all attitude, which eventually led to the two men shoving each other.

Ferguson once picked up a drunk juvenile young offender and allegedly punched him in a cell. The youth complained and showed bruises to his head and chest, but police dismissed it.

The Mountie once swore at and challenged another officer to duke it out in the police garage to see who was the detachment’s “top dog.”

On the night Varley died, Ferguson was dispatched to the hospital. Varley was there to check up on a friend and had called police because he was worried that his fiancée had been abducted.

Instead, it was Varley who was arrested.

Varley was drunk, but witnesses say it was Ferguson who was abusive, punching and handcuffing him before hauling him off to an RCMP cell.

Varley kicked out the back window of the police cruiser in retaliation.
Redman said while accounts differed, it was clear Ferguson and Varley had another set-to in the cellblock that led to the fatal head shot.

The judge also suggested that police put in more gun lockboxes in detachments to help prevent altercations in cells from escalating into deadly situations. He also said more security cameras should be installed.
RCMP Sgt. Tim Taniguchi, RCMP spokesman for Alberta, said the force has already acted on both those recommendations. He said lockboxes have been in place at all new detachments since 2003 and are being installed in older ones.

He said video surveillance cameras are now in about two-thirds of all 110 Alberta detachments. The remainder are to be in place by 2013.

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Categories: Death While In Custody, External Reviews, Failing to do Their Duties, Internal Discipline, Mounties Breaking The Law, Senior Management, Shoddy Investigations.

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