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Toronto police officers were ‘misleading’ to justify use of force during raid of rapper’s condo: judge

Gun charges fell apart last month when a judge found Toronto police officers used excessive force during a raid, questioned a man “in a vulnerable position” and were “misleading” to try to cover it up.

As a result, the judge ruled evidence of illegal firearms and ammunition couldn’t be used in court, and 27-year-old Toronto rapper Omary Bent was acquitted of the charges.

But it’s unclear what the punishment will be, if any, for the five officers involved. For now, they’re still doing their jobs — jobs that, for some, involve teaching other officers how to do theirs.

And as CBC Toronto has learned, some of these officers have been accused of lying in court before.

Bent’s lawyer called the situation “troubling.”

“If we can’t count on the people who are enforcing the laws to uphold them, what does that do to anybody’s respect in the law or belief that our system is a fair one?” Hilary Dudding said in an interview.

A Toronto Police Service spokesperson declined to comment on the case but said a judge’s “negative judicial findings” do not always mean an officer did something wrong.

Two officers in tactical gear holdings guns.
Toronto’s emergency task force, which conducted the raid, is a specialized tactical team that deals with high-risk emergency situations. (Toronto Police Service/YouTube)

Ontario Superior Court documents obtained by CBC Toronto detail the 2021 raid.

According to the documents, a confidential informant told Toronto police Bent was dealing drugs and had a gun. After two days of surveillance, police got a warrant to raid his Etobicoke condominium.

On July 27, 2021, officers rammed their way into the unit.

There’s no “reliable account” of what happened next, Ontario Superior Court Justice Sandra Nishikawa ruled on June 20.

Bent admitted to throwing a guitar case, which court documents say contained a long gun and ammunition, off the balcony of his 37th-floor unit. But it’s what happened after that’s at the core of the dispute.

A living room and bedroom.
Police raided a condominium in Etobicoke while arresting Bent. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

Bent testified he had just left the bedroom — and had his hands up — when he was Tasered. However, Const. Victor Romita testified Bent ran in and out of his bedroom “several times” and was reaching for a Gucci satchel — in which police later found a loaded pistol with a laser attachment — when Romita Tasered him.

Meanwhile, according to the court documents, Const. Chris Moorcroft said Bent had left his bedroom and had his hand in his pocket when he was Tasered.

Two guns.
Toronto police seized an EMEI semi-automatic long gun and a loaded .40-calibre Glock 23 with an over-capacity magazine and a laser attachment. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

The judge ruled police dragged Bent out of his unit with enough force to pull a dreadlock out of his scalp.

Moorcraft and Romita testified they do not remember this, although Sgt. Richard Macfarlane testified they were both there when Bent was dragged.

Bent also testified police asked him for the keys to his Rolls Royce before he had a chance to speak with a lawyer, and said Const. John Xiouris threatened to break the car windows if he didn’t get the keys.

Xiouris testified Bent offered up the keys unprompted. Nothing was found during a police search of the vehicle.

Bent was charged with possession of a loaded prohibited firearm, possession of a non-restricted firearm without a licence and two counts of possession of a prohibited device, namely an over-capacity magazine.

A tuft of hair and a man showing a bald spot.
Police pulled a dread out of Bent’s head when they dragged him out of his condo unit in 2021. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

Officer ‘tailored his testimony’: judge

The judge ruled police didn’t need to use the Taser because Bent clearly wasn’t armed and wasn’t near the satchel.

She said it was “impossible” to accept Romita as credible because his claims not only contradicted other officers, but also his own reports.

In his Taser report, obtained by CBC Toronto, Romita never mentioned the satchel. In that report, and a use of force report, he said Bent was armed with a hidden weapon — even though he wasn’t.

Romita said in court that was a mistake, but the judge disagreed, calling it a “deliberate” and “misleading” move to justify using the Taser and to avoid questions from other officers about it.

Screenshots of two documents, with circles highlighting where police improperly indicated Bent was armed.
The Taser and use of force reports Romita submitted said Bent was armed — even though he wasn’t. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

“This apparent willingness to advance a narrative that suits a specific purpose at a particular time … lead[s] to the inescapable conclusion that he tailored his testimony to justify his use of force,” Nishikawa said in her ruling.

She found the other officers — Moorcroft, Macfarlane and Const. Pawel Lecki — not remembering if Bent was shirtless was inaccurate and an effort to suggest Bent may have had a hidden weapon. She said that testimony “belies any good faith.” 

The judge said it was “highly unlikely” Bent gave Xiouris the keys voluntarily. Instead, she said he was coerced and Xiouris threatened to break the windows of Bent’s Rolls Royce if he didn’t get the keys.

“[Bent] was in a vulnerable position — he had Taser probes in him and was reliant on the police for medical assistance,” read her ruling.

The judge ruled the Taser was an excessive use of force that violated Bent’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She also ruled Xiouris asking for the keys before Bent could speak to a lawyer was another Charter violation.

A man sitting.
Keith Merith, a retired superintendent with York Regional Police, says there is no justification for officers being misleading in court. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

There’s “absolutely no justification” for officers being misleading in court, said Keith Merith, a retired superintendent with the York Regional Police Service. He said doing so erodes public confidence in policing.

“The job that we do depends on honesty … if we can’t demonstrate that at all times, we’re in trouble,” Merith said. “We’re not working for the benefit of the people we serve, it’s more working in our self-interest, which does not work and will never work.”

Officers’ testimonies previously questioned in court

CBC Toronto confirmed one of the officers in the 2021 raid was accused of lying in court before and another officer couldn’t be considered credible in a past case.

Moorcroft was involved in a case a decade ago where a judge found he and other officers “lied, exaggerated and colluded” about using force on a man in custody.

In 2011, Xiouris was involved in a drug and gun case where a judge found police were reluctant to disclose meeting before writing their notes, which are supposed to be based on officers’ individual memories at the time. The judge in that case ruled Xiouris’s evidence was not credible.

A man standing, being held by police officers.
Bent is shown in the police station after he was arrested. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

Toronto police told CBC Toronto that Moorcroft and Romita are both teaching constables, responsible for teaching other officers in the emergency task force — a specialized tactical team that deals with high-risk emergency situations, executing search warrants, armed or barricaded people and acts of terrorism.

None of the five officers involved in the Bent raid responded to requests for interviews.

In an email, Toronto police spokesperson Stephanie Sayer said there are internal processes to identify cases with “negative judicial findings” and its professional standards branch investigates misconduct allegations.

In an unrelated incident in 2023, Bent was charged with second-degree murder after 24-year-old Shacquan Harrison was stabbed in Etobicoke. He is expected to stand trial later this year or early next year.

What happens when officers lie in court?

By law, prosecutors must report officers suspected of lying in court. After that, the police service is responsible for investigating its own officers.

The Crown attorney who prosecuted Bent and the Ministry of the Attorney General declined to comment on the case or say if any of the officers were reported.

Unless an officer is charged with perjury — which is rare — past questions about an officer’s credibility often don’t come up in other trials, said Toronto defence lawyer Kim Schofield, who wasn’t involved in Bent’s case.

Dudding, Bent’s lawyer, agreed.

“There is a real concern that there isn’t actually a mechanism in place to discipline officers who are found to have not been honest on the stand,” she said.

A person smiling.
Hilary Dudding, Bent’s lawyer, says there should be more ways to hold officers accountable for lying in court. (Submitted by Hilary Dudding)

Julius Haag, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said it’s important to understand why police lie in court.

“Is there something embedded within the police culture or subculture that might lead officers to believe that: ‘This is something that not only I should do, but something that I can do and that I’ll get away with as well?'” he said.

Retired superintendent Merith said some may defend bending the truth if it means putting a bad person behind bars. But that’s a slippery slope, he said, and there are rules for a reason.

“Where does it end?… Your whole existence as a police officer is based on your credibility,” he said.

“We cannot start knocking down these guardrails because we feel like we want to get the bad guy. That’s not how it works.”

A man standing.
Julius Haag, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, says it’s important to understand officers lie in court. (Vedran Lesic/CBC)

In his experience, Merith said, most officers try to do their best and tell the truth, but being a witness can be complex.

Witnesses, including officers, don’t get the right to present evidence or stay for the whole trial, among other things, said Jon Reid, president of the Toronto Police Association, in an email.

The experts who spoke to CBC Toronto all said an independent, civilian-led oversight body should investigate lying police officers, instead of relying on other police.

“You will have officers who will flaunt the law and will lie and cheat and do all of those things. And we need to address that, absolutely,” Merith said.

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