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"Starlight tour" brings officers' convictions


Paul Barnsley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Saskatoon







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On Sept. 20, an all-white jury of seven men and five women decided that veteran Saskatoon Police Service constables Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson committed a criminal offence on Jan. 28, 2000.

The two veteran officers were charged with assault and forcible confinement. The jury rendered convictions on only the latter charge.

The officers admitted they took Darrell Night, a Native man, to the outskirts of town on a cold Prairie winter night and kicked him out of their cruiser, leaving him to walk home in minus 25 degree Celsius conditions. Night filed a formal complaint after he heard that two other Native men had been found frozen to death in the same area where he was dropped off.

Both officers were promptly fired by interim police chief Jim Mathews just hours after the guilty verdict. Mathews, a retired deputy chief with the Calgary police service, was asked to serve as interim Saskatoon chief while the police services board looks for a replacement for the man who was chief at the time of the offence. Former chief Dave Scott was terminated by the board last July.

The interim chief, in announcing his decision to fire the officers, said the matter had now been dealt with.

"We are now concluding a very unsettling phase in the history of the Saskatoon Police Service. The isolated actions of two officers have directly affected the reputation of all of our members, sullying those men and women who regularly demonstrate the highest standards of ethics, integrity and commitment to the community," he said. "The admissions of constables Munson and Hatchen in Queens Bench Court, surrounding their actions in January of 2000 involving Darrell Night, has shaken the public's confidence in the Saskatoon Police Service."

He said he would have fired the officers even if they'd been acquitted of all charges.

"I am of the opinion that these two members are unsuitable to perform the duties of a police officer, and subject to Section 60 of the Saskatchewan Police Act, 1990, I have terminated their employment with the Saskatoon Police Service effective immediately," he said. "This is an important step to bring closure to this incident. It demonstrates to the public that this type of isolated act will not be tolerated in our community or by your police service and will help us to restore public confidence in the Saskatoon Police Service. It is my belief that this community recognizes that the incident with Mr. Night was an anomaly, the irresponsible actions of two officers whose lack of judgment is not typical of our members, or our service."

But Native leaders in the community will not be so quick to put this incident behind them. Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Vice-chief Lawrence Joseph commended Night for having "the courage to come forward."

Joseph, who holds the justice portfolio, said the verdict revealed basic flaws in the justice system that must be examined and corrected.

"The police denied that these drop-offs were happening in Saskatoon and in the province, but the Crown prosecutor and 12 citizens of this city have proven that they do," he said. "These things have been happening for years. The not guilty verdict on the assault notwithstanding, this trial has clearly demonstrated that fundamental human rights are being violated in this city."

Joseph joined Night and his lawyer Donald Worme in calling for a full public inquiry and "substantive changes to the current system in this province."

"Every citizen of Saskatoon, of Saskatchewan, and of the world at large should be concerned about the abuses revealed during the course of this trial," the vice-chief said, "and I invite those who would be responsible for addressing those concerns to allow First Nations people to assist them in constructing a justice system, in this province at least, that will 'protect and serve' the basic human rights of all people in Saskatchewan."

Night has consistently demanded more answers than a criminal trial is geared t provide.

"I did nothing to deserve the nightmares I've had since that night and the ongoing anxiety and apprehension I feel now whenever I see a police car," he said in a statement e-mailed to this publication. "The criminal justice system cannot deliver justice in this case and cannot protect the human rights of people in my position. The convictions of these two officers is a start, but nobody has been able to tell me why this happened or even how it could happen in our country-a country that says it values human rights of all citizens."

"It has been our position throughout that only a full-scale public inquiry, complete with all the powers and authority of such a process, can effectively respond to the obvious and serious issues that this case presents and the questions that linger," Worme said. "Why did this dark event occur? How did this dark stain come to bear on our city's character? Only through such public inquiry can individual citizens take any comfort or feel assured that their human rights are important and will be respected by those to whom we have entrusted significant powers to protect and serve our community."

Two days after the trial concluded, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Chris Axworthy announced an inquiry will begin in October that will look into how the justice system treats Aboriginal people.

The FSIN first called for a wide-ranging inquiry into all aspects of the justice system and how it deals with Aboriginal people shortly after Night filed his complaint. Joseph and his staff have been meeting with Justice officials since then, attempting the work out an acceptable way to conduct the inquiry.

Munson and Hatchen will be sentenced Oct. 30.