Even When Canadian Cops Confess to Multiple Murders, They Get Off
Even When Canadian Cops Confess to Multiple Murders, They Get Off
Editor's note: this article draws heavily on previous reporting by Toronto Star reporter Wendy Gillis.
It could be the setup for a terrible joke. A police officer walks into police headquarters and confesses to murdering two people. The punchline is he is not charged, and his fellow officers do not even document his confessions. Yet in the case of Brantford Police Constable Adam Hill, it is a true story, certainly no joke, and the laugh is had by police at the expense of the public.
The situation regarding police killings of civilians is so rotten in Canada that even when police officers confess to killing people, the authorities can be counted on to do whatever is necessary to see that their actions are deemed reasonable or justifiable in some way. The legitimation processes of state capitalist institutions are particularly efficient when it comes to protecting killer cops and seeing that their actions are sanctified publicly.
Constable Adam Hill's Confessions
Such has been played out in painful fashion in the disturbing case of Brantford Police Constable Adam Hill. It has been established that Constable Hill entered the Brantford Police Force headquarters at 4:45 AM on December 10, 2014 and declared that he was “a murderer” and had “lied” to the Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in their examination of his killings of civilians. Over the course of two days Constable Hill provided his colleagues in the force with confessions regarding his actions in the deaths of Benjamin Wood (32) in 2009 and Evan Jones (18) in 2010. According to a statement by the SIU:
“He made statements to a number of police officers concerning the deaths… indicating that he had lied to the SIU during previous investigations and that he was criminally responsible for those two deaths. That same day, the subject officer [Hill] was admitted to a healthcare facility. While there, he made further comments of a similar nature to other officers who visited him over the ensuing days.”
Stunningly, Hill had been involved in yet another incident that left a civilian dead prior to the killings of Wood and Jones. In 2006 Hill was one of two officers who took part in the fatal shooting of Andrew Osidacz. No charges were brought against either officer in that case.
Based on Hill’s own confessions, the SIU in 2015 took the incredibly rare initiative of reopening the two investigations into police killings of civilians. On December 12, 2016, the SIU announced that no new charges would be brought in either case. The SIU found that Constable Hill had killed the men in a reasonable manner, despite his own descriptions of his intentions and the actions he undertook.
The SIU report of December 12, 2016, was the first time Hill had been publicly identified as being involved in Wood’s 2009 death. The SIU does not name officers, but the coroner’s inquest in the Jones case did identify Hill and some media had reported that fact. Still, some mainstream media protected Constable Hill further by choosing not to publish his name, even after this second round of investigations.
The lesson here seems to be that if you are a cop who kills, investigators will rarely find you responsible or hold you to account for your actions. Go ahead. Confess to the killings. The authorities will find a way to ensure you are legitimized anyway. The details in the case of Constable Adam Hill are instructive.
Benjamin Wood was officially ruled to have died from drowning and hypothermia on January 20, 2009 after breaking through ice on the Grand River following a police foot chase. Hill struggled with Wood before the victim tried to escape over the frozen river. Police had chased the man to the edge of the river before Constable Hill grappled with him. The search for his body took hours. Despite the struggle with police, no coroner’s inquest was struck to look into his death.
In his confession to police, Hill reportedly told colleagues that before Wood fled over ice Hill had struck him on the head several times. Hill describe the blows as being delivered in a “heavy handed” manner. Hill never revealed this to the SIU during their initial investigation into Wood’s death. Hill told his colleague officers that he did not disclose this to the SIU because “he was scared.”
Hill said that it was only after he hit Wood that the man fled on the icy river. According to the SIU report, “He opined that Mr. Wood did not return to the shoreline because he had been struck by (Hill).” Still the SIU chose not to accept Hill’s account.
Eighteen-year-old Evan Jones was killed in his home on August 25, 2010. Police had responded to a 911 call placed by his mother claiming the young man was upset, shouting, and throwing furniture. Jones had reportedly struggled with depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.
After the fact, police initially reported and told the SIU that Jones had been holding a butcher knife and meat cleaver. Police also claim the young man told police to shoot him, thus preparing the ground for the bogus, but often used, “suicide by cop” defense that is often trotted out by police in such cases. Indeed, on that basis, the SIU initially cleared Hill, who fired the fatal shots killing Jones. Evan Jones was hit four times by police bullets.
Yet in his December 2014 confession, Hill claimed that he “shot an unarmed man.” He also suggested that he was unclear whether or not Jones held any weapon when he shot the man but was definitely “relieved to see a meat cleaver near his body after the fact.” What else he might have said is not known given that his fellow officers failed to record it.
Convenient Incompetence? Brantford Police and the Hill Confessions
The SIU claims Hill was “in a state of medical distress” when he made his confessions at police headquarters but also tellingly noted that the investigations were impeded by the notable failure of seven Brantford police officers to even take detailed notes of Hill’s statements, let alone make video or audio recordings of the confessions. Strangely, the SIU interpreted Hill’s insistence on talking about the killings as sign of his medical distress. Notably, a forensic psychiatrist consulted by the SIU could not confirm that Hill suffered medical distress.
Shockingly, the Brantford Police did not even notify the SIU that Hill had made his confessions until eight days later. By that time Hill had entered a health care institution and the medical distress defense was on the way to being constructed, outside of the eye of the oversight agency. That happened mere hours after Hill entered the police station to make his confession. Clearly, the confessions by an officer were treated in a manner different than would have been the case for a member of the public making dual murder confessions. The SIU seemed to focus on Hill’s supposed medical state in the re-examination of the case.
Yet the real issue, in addition to an officer clearly voluntarily confessing to killing two people, were the dubious actions of fellow officers in response to the confessions by their colleague. SIU director Tony Loparco went so far as to say that the Brantford officers’ approach to recording Hill’s statements (that is to say, not recording them) were “fatal” to investigators’ efforts. According to Loparco:
“None of the officers at the police station made use of audio or video recording equipment that would have been available to them. While the four officers at the station did make notes, none of them attempted to record what the subject officer was saying word-for-word. In light of these inherent limitations, the only option left to the SIU in order to attempt to determine precisely what the subject officer said was to conduct witness officer interviews. The evidentiary value of statements obtained in this manner is dependent on the quality and accuracy of the witness’ recall.”
Incredibly, there has been no recommendation to discipline the Brantford officers for their conveniently shoddy work in interviewing their colleague. Neither have there been moves to change processes for police confessing to police. Instead, the SIU has decided to accept the faulty (and perhaps disingenuous) testimony of Hill’s fellow officers and not pursue charges. According to Loparco again, “After a thorough review of all of the available evidence, I have concluded that there are insufficient grounds to believe that a criminal offence has been committed in relation to the deaths of both Mr. Wood and Mr. Jones.” Again, the evidence available was actively limited by the shoddy, or complicit, behaviors of Hill’s colleague officers.
Glenn Stuart, a lawyer for Jones’ family hit the crucial point directly. In his view, “In effect it sounds as if there may have been the evidence to lay a charge if the Brantford Police Service had done their job. It’s really quite amazing that someone could walk in to a police station and confess . . . and no one makes any record of that.” A situation that really goes beyond belief.
Hill had unsurprisingly been cleared by the SIU in its earlier examinations, but those cases were reopened given that in December 2014 Hill made numerous statements to officers that he “was criminally responsible” for the men’s deaths. Hill claimed to officers that “he shot and killed an unarmed Jones” and that “he had struck Wood in the head in a ‘heavy handed way.’” Hill had not previously admitted to lying to the SIU.
Ten police “witnesses” were interviewed by the SIU. Officers are not required to participate in SIU investigations, and Hill unsurprisingly chose to take that option, popular among police in such cases.
Silence and Belligerence: The Force and Association Respond
The Brantford Police Service has still not answered any questions regarding their officers’ failure to record or document Hill’s statements. They have also not provided answers as to why it took them eight days to notify the SIU about Hill’s confessions and claims that he had lied to the agency. The force has only stated, cynically, that they will review policy related to the cases. Clearly there is no mechanism for holding police to account, to make them comply openly with the SIU, or to discipline them in cases where they hold the review process, legal norms, or investigatory integrity in utter contempt.
The Brantford Police Association through its president Mark Baxter took the typically belligerent approach that is the hallmark of police associations. Baxter railed against the SIU and criticized Loparco for even questioning Hill’s colleagues for their dubious failure to record Hill’s confession statements. Not simply content that his officer had gotten away with two confessed killings, Baxter accused the SIU of “extraordinary after-the-fact assumption” and “Monday morning quarterbacking.” The association head went so far as to claim he knew the truth of Hill’s killings. According to Baxter: “Virtually everything (Hill) said that night was wrong.” This sort of claim can only be regarded as an act of ideological defense.
Baxter excused the officers’ actions as acts of compassion and said they were justified in apparently treating the confessed killer first and foremost as a friend. In his view it was fine that they pay friendly visits to the confessed killer while in the hospital and “could not have been expected to take notes or record.” This is rather incredible. Could it be even remotely expected that police would treat confessed killers who were civilians in this manner?
An Association of Lies
Of great note, Hill reported in 2014 that a Brantford Police Association representative counseled him to lie to the SIU. Hill also reported that the association representative told him to report that Jones was holding the supposed knife above his head, not at 90 degrees from his body. This is not surprising given the findings of police association obstruction of and interference with SIU investigations that have been noted in various provincial reports.
Stunningly, the SIU chose not to pursue the efforts of the association to counsel Hill to lie beyond asking the association representative involved and accepting their denial at face value. That association representative remains unnamed and apparently no further investigation will be carried out into their actions. Association head Baxter predictably says the association would never think of telling “any member to break the law.” We are left to judge that for ourselves.
The SIU was left to declare defeat. In their conclusion they note that the lack of cooperation by police and the failure of officers to carry out basic documentation of the confessions left them with, in their view, insufficient materials. According to the SIU:
“The statements that the SIU was able to obtain in the circumstances cannot satisfy the evidentiary threshold for admissibility. They can only be viewed as inaccurate, unreliable and incomplete . . . Given that these statements lack the necessary features to even attempt admitting them into evidence, there is no basis to interfere with the previous conclusion that the shooting of Mr. Jones was legally justified.”
Unfortunately they have chosen to leave matters like that. Once again, the provincial oversight body, perceived by many to be the global model for police oversight, is thwarted by basic police interference or non-cooperation or obfuscation.
All of this brings into a bit more focus why the Brantford Police would have failed to record Hill’s confession. (At this point it is potentially believable that they could have destroyed any documentation they had.) It also gives a reason for their early decision to build a medical distress defense. The information provided by Hill is potentially incendiary in terms of police killings and processes of cover up.
The Jones family brought a civil suit against the Brantford Police Services Board, retired police chief Derek McEllveny, and Hill’s colleague officers, filed in 2012. The suit alleges assault and battery, negligence, and other claims. In particular the suit alleges that Officer Hill was returned to duty without proper psychiatric assessment or treatment following his shooting of Andrew Osidacz. According to the suit: “As a result, no proper determination was made . . . as to whether the trauma of this earlier incident impacted his ability to exercise his judgment required in his future duties as a police officer.”
In January 2013, a statement of defense was filed. It stated in part that “unless otherwise admitted, the defendants deny or have no knowledge of the allegations contained.”
Regardless, it cannot be avoided or overlooked that a police officer repeatedly admitted to murdering two people, after having killed previously. And he was let off. And the officers to whom he confessed failed to document the multiple confessions and instead seem to have worked toward a defense for their colleague. And further, the investigations unit charged with examining police killings of civilians interpreted active police obfuscation in a manner favorable to the officer and managed to hold no one accountable. This even though the officer who confessed to murder revealed that the police association had instructed him to lie to investigators of the agency. Even direct confessions made to police cannot get a killer cop charged for killing civilians.