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Two officers charged under Police Services Act in connection with Tess Richey case
Published Tuesday, June 12, 2018 11:48AM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, June 12, 2018 7:53PM EDT
Two Toronto police officers have been charged under the Police Services Act following an internal investigation over allegations the constables failed to thoroughly search for murder victim Tess Richey.
Richey was reported missing by a member of her family on Nov. 25 when she failed to return home after a night out with a friend in the city’s Church-Wellesley neighbourhood.
The next day, Nov. 26, the officers were on duty together in the area when they received a radio call asking them to check an address related to Richey’s disappearance.
According to a notice of hearing, the pair responded to the Church and Dundonald streets area to search for Richey and at some point “learned that this location” was the last place the 22-year-old was seen.
It’s alleged that Const. Alan McCullough and Const. Michael Jones did not search the adjoining property or immediate area “thoroughly” and did not canvass residents in the neighbourhood about the case.
They also allegedly failed to subsequently inform their supervising officer about the details of the call.
Richey’s mother, Christine Hermeston, who travelled from North Bay, Ont. to help search, found her daughter’s body at the bottom of an outdoor stairwell at a building under construction two days later.
The discovery was made approximately 40 metres away from the address the officers were called to check, the notice states.
Speaking to CP24, Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack challenged the allegations.
“They weren’t investigating the main missing person occurrence, that’s assigned to different officers. What those officers received was a call to check a specific address,” McCormack said.
“Not only did they check that address, they checked some adjoining addresses and they also looked in the area, which is above and beyond what a ‘check address’ call is.”
McCormack said he’s surprised the officers were called before a police tribunal. He said the police union will defend the officers “vigorously.”
“We don’t know if it’s because this is a high profile case or what the issues are around it, but in no way do we believe that this should be at the tribunal,” he said. “These officers did their job and we don’t believe they should be in front of the tribunal in any way for their actions.”
Both the officers remain on duty, added McCormack.
Police initially said Richey’s death was not considered suspicious, however the homicide unit later took over the case after an autopsy revealed that she died of neck compression.
On Feb. 8, 2018, a suspect identified as Kalen Schlatter was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. That charge was upgraded to first-degree murder in March after police uncovered “new evidence” in the case -- the details of which have not been made public.
Twenty-one-year-old Schlatter and Richey likely met for the first time that night, police said.
The charges and allegations have not been proven in court.
In a statement provided to CTV News Toronto, Richey’s oldest sister said she believes the charges reflect efforts by Toronto police to prevent similar situations in the future.
“We are still in a very dark place, probably always will be. It was obvious that something had gone terribly wrong when my mom had to find Tess where she did and then we had to deal with the subsequent allegations surrounding her death,” Varina Richey wrote via email.
“When homicide took over, they were fantastic and with this news it seems they are trying to identify failings so no other family will have to go through what mine did when the absolute worst happens.”
Richey’s death was one in a series of tragedies that have gripped Toronto’s Gay Village, known formally as the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, over the past year.
In response to her case, as well as to the ongoing investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur and death of transgender Toronto woman Alloura Wells, an external review was called to look at how Toronto police handle missing persons cases.
The families of the victims in each case have heavily criticized the police service’s approach and conduct after reporting their loved ones missing. Their backlash along with outrage from Toronto’s LGBTQ community eventually stirred action from Police Chief Mark Saunders, who vowed to erect a dedicated missing persons unit and conduct a separate, internal review of the aforementioned cases.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who sits on the Toronto Police Services Board, said he believes the external review is a “big step forward for the city, regardless of individual cases.”
“I take seriously the suggestion that has been made in a number of quarters, including the LGBTQ community and other marginalized communities, that things have not always been what they should be when it comes to things like missing persons investigations and that is precisely why I initiated a review that will take formal form in the coming weeks at a police board meeting,” Tory said at an unrelated event on Tuesday.
“(The review) is precisely to look at how these investigations in generic terms have been treated over time and also to look at the general state of the relationship between the LGBTQ2S commuinties and the police services.
While Tory said the allegations made against the two officers in the Richey case “trouble him” he refused to comment on it specifically until “they have their day in court.”
“Anytime there is an allegation made against an officer – let’s remember these are charges that have been laid under the Police Act of conduct that is deemed inappropriate –I’m very concerned,” he said, “but we have to let the process take its course.”
According to Police spokesperson Mark Pugash , the case against McCullough and Jones will not be heard until the murder trial is complete.