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OPP officer who saw jailhouse assault video comes forward, pushes for change

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An Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer is coming forward to share how he stumbled across a video of a troubling jailhouse assault, setting into motion a chain of events that would eventually result in a conviction but would also prove devastating to his mental health.

Const. Charles Ostrom told CTV News he was accidentally exposed to the video of Const. Bailey Nicholls assaulting a woman in cells at OPP's Orillia detachment, after finding a report attached to the case wasn't accurate.

"It was as far from what I had read in the report as imaginable. I thought, 'I'm seeing a crime. I'm witnessing a crime.' Albeit four months later, but I'm witnessing a crime," Ostrom said in an interview.

Ostrom had already been off work in 2013 when he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with two suicide attempts in three weeks. He returned to work 14 months later on reduced duties, allowing him to stay away from anything traumatic.

If the report attached to the video had indicated the assault it contained, Ostrom said he would have avoided it. Instead, it sparked his PTSD and pushed him to report it, passing information to a retired officer that would make its way to the OPP Commissioner and the province's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), he said.

The video would prove crucial to the conviction of Nicholls for assault causing bodily harm. Nicholls was given a suspended sentence on Thursday by Justice John Olver.

In the video, Nicholls can be seen getting increasingly frustrated with a woman who had been arrested at an Orillia bar. She breaks her necklace, grabs her throat, and pushes her head into the cell bars. The woman can be seen bleeding from the head – an injury that required five staples to close.

Olver found Nichols provided misleading and conflicting accounts of the incident and failed to document it properly. She was placed on 15 months' probation. The Ontario Provincial Police Association has said it plans to appeal the verdict.

Ostrom said he is still off work but believes the sentence is a crucial step in his return. He said he had seen other assaults on the job that weren't dealt with properly and is calling for change.

"I wasn't able to begin to heal until there was the appropriate accountability," he said.

The number of mental stress injury claims at the OPP has risen from 50 in 2015 to a high of 180 in 2019 and has dropped back to 152 in 2023 – still some three times as many, WSIB statistics show.

The amount of benefit payments across all types of injuries shows a rise from about $6.4 million in 2013 to $20 million in 2023, according to the WSIB statistics.

Former OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis said the force is much more open to mental health claims than it has been, and more people are taking advantage of them.

"Does this mean they are forgetting about the stigma and are bravely putting their hands up and trying to seek help in bigger numbers? Or does this mean that there are more numbers overall to put their hands up?" Lewis said.

The OPP said it has worked to destigmatize mental health in the last few years and is trying to promote a culture that focuses on the well-being of its members.

Ostrom wants the OPP to take mental health concerns more seriously and listen to officers' concerns.

"I would like to see it stop. I would like to see every member of the OPP be able to hold their head high and have the dignity that they are entitled to have as a human being," he said.  

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