If the Toronto Police Service (TPS) continues its slow march toward doling out stiff punishments for officers who drive drunk, it will be partly because of Enis Egeli, a local constable who swerved all over the Gardiner Expressway while a television cameraman looked on.
It was around 4 AM on December 2, 2013 when a city cameraman spotted Egeli, off-duty and heading east, driving erratically. Egeli struck a curb and continued driving, according to legal records, "swerving from lane to lane," and eventually pulling over.
The cameraman passed Egeli's car, noting that the front tires were flat, and the airbags had gone off. He alerted police and doubled back, but Egeli was gone when he returned. The cameraman eventually found Egeli parked on Spadina Avenue and recalled that the constable was speaking on the phone and seemed "tired or impaired."
Responding officers noted that Egeli smelled of alcohol, and breath samples taken at 6:11 AM and 6:45 AM showed readings of 133 and 122 mg/100mL of blood, respectively. In Ontario, 80 mg/100mL of blood constitutes drunk driving.
Egeli was found guilty of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol and operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.
Egeli pled guilty to discreditable conduct at a Toronto police disciplinary tribunal last month, providing an opportunity for the force to solidify a new standard of punishment for officers who drive drunk.
Police disciplinary hearings proceed like a trial before a judge. A cop's lawyer and a high-ranking officer typically act as defense and prosecution. Another high-ranking officer usually oversees the proceedings as a hearing officer and renders a decision and written explanation.
It's these disciplinary decisions that the TPS says shape the punishments that a hearing officer can dole out. And while there has been a trend toward stricter penalties for drunk driving, according to police spokesperson Meaghan Gray, the process "doesn't happen overnight."
A 20-day forfeiture of pay is a common punishment for an officer who drives drunk and the maximum allowable forfeiture under the Police Services Act, Gray said.
Punishments for officers who've driven drunk caught the attention of the Toronto Star, whose investigative reporters analyzed disciplinary decisions from GTA forces and the OPP, and concluded last year that "Toronto police have doled out the most lenient penalties to officers caught drinking and driving—an average of about twenty days docked pay."
A 2006 OPP disciplinary decision in the case of a sergeant who drove drunk made a similar observation, noting that the provincial police force punished "alcohol-related driving allegations with demotion" while the TPS opted for "penalties from six days off to twelve days off," the decision read.
But as the hearings office considers Egeli's punishment, it has the chance to set a tougher precedent.
At a hearing last month, service prosecutor Insp. Peter Callaghan argued that Egeli's rank should be reduced from first- to second-class constable for a year, a punishment that would entail about $9,500 [$7,200 USD] less pay.
"We are at a crossroad," Callaghan said. "It is open to this tribunal to raise the penalties."
Callaghan said an average of five officers a year had appeared at the tribunal for impaired driving convictions in recent years, and that warnings from former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair "seem to have fallen on deaf ears."
The hearing officer in Egeli's case is Superintendent Debra Preston, who authored a 2014 decision that saw Sergeant John Sievers forfeit 20 days' pay after he drove drunk while off-duty in Nova Scotia. Sievers was "involved in a single motor vehicle accident," according to tribunal records and was driving his damaged car when an RCMP officer stopped him.
Preston warned officers in her decision that "The service is at a crossroads for cases of impaired driving and/or driving over 80 mgs."
"This must be a general deterrent to members in and of itself that given the right set of circumstances, gradation, demotion and/or dismissal are likely penalties," Preston wrote.
Preston's message was clear, said Callaghan, who noted that he had "problems"with the Star's articles, but underscored the inconsistency the reporters had highlighted.
"Our current penalty range no longer makes any sense," he said.
Preston could now follow through on her warning, a rare opportunity in a system that proceeds according to the limits of precedent.
Inspector Charles Young of the OPP's Professional Standards Bureau knows the limits well and said they prevent the force from simply firing officers.
"If the organization could, we would dismiss you if you did it the first time, but the jurisprudence will not support that," he said.
Defense counsel Gary Clewley said Callaghan made" an alarmingly almost-persuasive argument, "but countered that because Egeli's offenses predated Preston's warning, he should be exempt from this "new regime."
Clewley argued for a 20-day forfeiture.
"He couldn't have known because the notice hadn't been sent out," Clewley said.
As for any officers found to have driven drunk since the Sievers decision was issued, Clewley said in an interview that a demotion is "inevitable."
"I'm not cheering it on," he said. "But I'm saying that the writing's on the wall."
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