by Rosie DiManno
We witnessed this week the best of policing.
An officer who held his nerve and held his ground against a suspect who seemed hell-bent on suicide-by-cop. The dramatic confrontation ended with Alek Minassian – subsequently charged with 10 counts of murder and 14 counts of attempted murder in Monday’s van rampage down Yonge St. sidewalks – on his knees and Const. Ken Lam snapping on the handcuffs.
But also this week, over the past five weeks, a different shade of policing – darker, dirty – was exposed in a downtown courtroom.
Not a Toronto cop but a veteran of the Hamilton Police Service, formerly a member of the guns and gangs unit.
A world where Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky moved with apparent cunning and greed, simultaneously ringing up bad guys and profiting off them, aligning with them.
On Wednesday, late into their third day of deliberation, a jury returned guilty verdicts on charges of bribery, obstruction of justice, breach of trust and cocaine trafficking.
When drug dealers with eye-popping criminal histories have more credibility than a cop with 17 years on the force, you have a problem.
Jurors believed the testimony of some unsavoury individuals – including, crucially, Mr. X, a seedy drug merchant and the Crownís star witness – rather than the elaborate justifications, obfuscations and gerrymandered accounts of the accused.
“His evidence was a joke,” defence lawyer Greg Lafontaine said in his closing address. “Total, absolute perjury.”
But their verdict puts the lie to the lie. If there was anyone perjuring under oath, by its rendering, the jury concluded it was Ruthowsky.
Over the course of the lengthy trial, in which Ruthowsky took the stand in his own defence, court heard duelling versions of the defendantís conduct and his reasons for it – that he had groomed Mr. X as an informant, a snitch, which the witness adamantly denied. That he, Ruthowsky, was a maniacally devoted cop who adopted unorthodox methods to get the job done in a city awash in crime. Or that he benefited from an environment where cops and hoods were scarcely distinguishable.
The grenade of an allegation was that Ruthowsky had accepted $20,000 in bribes from Mr. X and a crew of likewise oily crooks, the payoff for information that helped protect them from raids and arrests, essentially allowing the drug brigade to move product with impunity.
Other way around, Ruthowsky countered – he was the one collecting vital intel that contributed to the takedown of dangerous suspects, including a murderer.
Ruthowsky had more than 60 “sources” in his policing toolkit. Yet Mr. X (his name protected by a
publication ban) was never registered as a confidential informant, as per Hamilton police policy. Ruthowsky claimed he kept that detail in a separate private notebook, part of a trove of files he took home – as directed by a commanding officer – after he was suspended in June 2012. Court heard that 130 case files, potentially including sensitive information about police investigations, have been sitting in Ruthowskyís basement for the past six years. This, despite a police search of the home in the summer of 2015, when Ruthowsky was arrested.
No explanation has been offered for how those files were overlooked.
That was but a trifle from the damning material that surfaced at trial. There was the cocaine cutting agent that Ruthowsky personally had tested at a lab for chemical analysis, this after a dealer was looking to identify the element as a cost-curtailing adjustment by eliminating the middle-man associate. Ruthowsky claimed his gambit was aimed at catching a bigger narcotics fish. There was the bizarre inclusion of Mr. X on a raid at a massive Hamilton grow-up, where the dealer was permitted into the building to eyeball the goods. There was the intervention by Ruthowsky on behalf of drug operators who’d been arrested, promising charges would disappear in exchange for inside intel. There was the cocaine press, a piece of equipment seized in an operation which another dealer testified he later purchased at auction from Ruthowsky. There was the $130,000 in unexplained income between 2011 and 2015, uncovered by a financial audit prepared for the prosecution – money Ruthowsky asserted came from his sideline businesses installing pools and building decks. Sloppy bookkeeping, he conceded.
It was an avalanche of incriminating evidence, all of which Ruthowsky tried to explain away, often addressing the jury directly in an overly familiar weíre-all-pals-here fashion, for which he was repeatedly admonished by the judge.
The jury came to its verdict without knowing what had been excluded in earlier rulings by a different judge – critically, details about two other Hamilton officers who were either directly or indirectly part of the trial cast.
One was Ian Matthews, advocated as a likewise unconventional cop – who nonetheless closed the deal on important investigations – corralled into the procedure through the defence in cross-examination. Jurors heard only that Matthews had “passed away.” In fact, the 25-year veteran shot himself inside Hamilton police headquarters in 2013. At the time, he was under investigation for an inappropriate sexual relationship with a female source. A subsequent investigation concluded the relationship included “drugs, sex and money.”
That was the guy the defence held up as a paragon of hard-nosed policing.
The second was Robert Hansen, a disgraced ex-Hamilton cop and Ruthowskyís ex-partner in the guns and gangs unit, sentenced to five years behind bars after being convicted in a case that involved planting a gun at a suspected drug dealerís house.
At this trial, the jury watched a two-hour video made in 2016 wherein Hansen was interviewed by an OPP officer about the Ruthowsky case. He appears in street clothes and was continually referenced as an officer although heís no such thing anymore. A “good cop,” said Ruthowsky of Hansen.
And we havenít even dipped into all the alarming allegations made at this trial about poor practices and procedures at Hamilton police, from feuding between the guns and gangs unit and the drug squad, to improperly catalogued and stored evidence.
Canít tell the cops from the criminals, sometimes.
One dirty cop, at least, has had his reckoning, though Lafontaine has said he intends to bring an abuse-of-process motion and will ask that the charges be stayed, with arguments on May 10.
Ruthowsky was found not guilty of a conspiracy to commit an indictable offence – trafficking marijuana.
But he still faces 16 more charges laid last August, including bribery, two counts of breach of trust, two counts of obstructive justice, public mischief, two counts of weapons trafficking, fraud under $5,000, trafficking marijuana, perjury, two counts of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, robbery and two counts of trafficking cocaine.
Good cop: Ken Lam.
Bad cop: Craig Ruthowsky.
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services