An infamous police brutality incident from 2017—in which crown prosecutors declined to lay criminal charges despite a recommendation to do so from ASIRT—has concluded. The police discipline process has ended and the professional consequences for repeatedly kicking and punching someone who was “clearly surrendering” has been decided. Thanks to a deal cut between the officers and Chief Dale McFee’s office the three cops got 35 hours of community service. Two of the three officers were also promoted before the discipline process was complete.
The case involved 21-year-old Ronnie Mickasko and an incident from July 28, 2017. Mickasko had stolen a truck and was driving around Edmonton at high speed. Under surveillance by the EPS Air1 helicopter he drove through red lights, drove on the wrong side of the road and drove at speeds in excess of 170 kilometres per hour.
The chase ended in Strathcona County after Mickasko drove over a spike belt. More than a dozen police vehicles then surrounded him and boxed him in. He took a few steps out of the vehicle, flung himself on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Later, a rifle was found on the rear floor of the passenger side of the truck as well as a rifle with ammunition locked in a gun case on the rear seat.
WATCH THE VIDEO OF THE BEATING HERE
"He was clearly surrendering," said Mickasko's lawyer, Heather Steinke-Attia to the CBC back in 2018. "He was giving up. He didn't anticipate when he was laying on the ground that he was about to receive a brutal beating to his head and face."
Mickasko was swarmed by at least 15 officers who then proceeded to kick, knee and punch Mickasko in the head and body. The 38 second swarming attack of a defenseless, compliant Mickasko left him with a fractured right orbital bone, nerve damage, a scratched retina, facial trauma and multiple facial lacerations. After Mickasko was transferred to the Edmonton Remand Centre from the hospital he spent nine weeks recovering in the infirmary.
Photo taken of Ronnie Mickasko at the Edmonton Remand Centre. This was after he was released from the hospital, a few days after his arrest. (Photo via Edmonton Remand Centre)
An ASIRT investigation into the conduct of the officers found that excessive force was used. Sue Hughson was the executive director of ASIRT at the time and in a letter sent to Mickasko and obtained by the CBC said that "there were reasonable grounds to believe an offense was committed" by police. Hughson also said that the force used by police was "excessive and could support prosecution.
Despite ASIRT’s recommendation of criminal charges Eric Tolpannen, the head of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service at the time, declined to charge any police officers involved in the beating. Tolpannen said that “it could not be established that the officers knew or should have known that the suspect was ‘giving up’ or if indeed he was giving up.” Because the police couldn’t have known that a prone Mickascko with his hands behind his back was giving up “it could not be proven that the use of force in arresting and detaining the suspect was unnecessary or excessive,” said Tolpannen.
Tolpannen also cited potential concern that Mickasko had access to a gun. "Once stopped, the police continued to be concerned about the presence of firearms on the suspect," said Tolpannen.
In this case the crown prosecutor gave a reason when they declined to prosecute. In the Pacey Dumas case, a similar police brutality case where a prone person who was under control of the police was kicked in the head, ASIRT recommended charges. The crown prosecutors declined to prosecute and never offered up an explanation.
Tom Engel, the chair of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association’s policing committee also sees some striking similarities between the Ronnie Mickasko and the Pacey Dumas police brutality case. “You’ve got someone who is lying on the ground, under control of the police, lying prone on the ground, surrounded by cops with guns and other weapons and then they get kicked in the head. I don’t see anything that’s really different,” said Engel.
Tolpannen was appointed to a judgeship in Alberta provincial court by the United Conservative Party in 2020. Tolpannen was appointed to the bench while his former department was under investigation into a scandal around how prosecutors handled autopsy reports that could have proved people innocent.
After the crown refused to press criminal charges the Edmonton Police Service conducted their own Police Act internal investigation into the conduct of the police officers involved in the beating of Mickasko. The results of their investigation and the plea agreement were released at 2pm on May 26, a Friday afternoon before a provincial election.
Sergeant (now Detective) William Thomas, Constable (now Sergeant) Vincent Boe, and Constable Scott Henning, all members of the tactical team, agreed to plead guilty to one count each of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority for their roles in the beating. A count of neglect of duty against all three was dropped. Police Act misconduct charges against two other anonymous police officers were dropped. The EPS promoted both Det. Thomas and Sgt. Boe while the misconduct investigation into them was going on..
The agreed upon punishment for all three officers was 35 hours of community service and a reprimand on their file. This plea agreement was reached between EPS counsel, representing the chief, and the affected officers.
The presiding officer of the disciplinary hearing, former RCMP chief superintendent Fred Kamins, noted in the decision that his role is not to be a “rubber stamp” but, rather, to affirm that the sanction is reasonable and would not offend the public interest.
Kamins notes in his decision that the punishment is on the “light end of the scale.”
“This was not a sanction that I would have imposed. Clearly, the Chief has information that I am not privy to that he believed mitigated what should have been a more serious sanction,” said Kamins.
“The punishment was clearly not appropriate. I would characterise it as a joke. These officers clearly should have been fired. Two of them got promoted. If they weren’t fired they should have been demoted. These were officers in leadership positions, on the tactical team,” said Engel.
“It’s outrageous that they weren’t fired and I think any reasonable member of the public would agree. This decision is extremely damaging to the reputation of the Edmonton Police Service.”
Chief Dale McFee argued to Kamins that the punishment was appropriate because the officers had demonstrated “some remorse” and that the officers had completed their community service prior to the hearing.
Ian Runkle is a lawyer and legal commentator who is based in Edmonton. “The officers ended up being rewarded instead of being punished. When they’ve been promoted in the meantime it doesn’t feel like much of a punishment or that it’s impeded anyone's career. If misconduct doesn’t affect your career what’s the point? Does that not indicate some condoning of the misconduct if it doesn’t impede their career” said Runkle.
Decisions on officer promotions are made by the chief of police. The lawyer for Mickasko was unable to provide any comment due to a settlement agreement.