PETERBOROUGH-A Peterborough Police Officer who was part of a specialized Sex Crimes Unit has been found to be guilty of Discreditable Conduct for her handling of a sexual assault investigation involving a 10-year-old girl.
Detective Constable Karen O’Brien has found to be guilty after the OPP was asked to look into her investigation of the reported incidents involving the young girl. The OPP found that a charge of discreditable conduct was warranted. Peterborough Police agreed but played down the seriousness of the issue. The father filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Review Director. That investigation took seven months and is now entering a new phase.
The initial investigation into the sexual assault allegations began in 2019. The girl’s father had reported the incidents to Peterborough Police and was later interviewed by DC O’Brien.
The young girl reported she was sexually assaulted by her stepfather. DC O’Brien conducted a twelve-month investigation and concluded there were insufficient grounds to proceed with charges.
The girl’s father accused DC O’Brien of being abusive toward his daughter during her initial interview by badgering her and repeatedly confronting his daughter about lying. He also alleged DC O’Brien failed to properly investigate the sexual assault allegation because she did not follow up on specific investigative evidence.
The father filed a complaint and the Peterborough Police Service Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) investigated. That internal investigation also found no reasonable prospect for conviction even though one of the officers involved in the inquiry found the child victim credible and recommended charges be laid. DC O’Brien still declined to lay charges.
The father was not happy with that and filed a complaint with the OIPRD. In December 2020, the OIPRD directed the public complaint be investigated by the OPP Professional Standards Unit.
The OPP report is damning.
A review of the 10 year old girl’s video statements to DC O’Brien was completed by Detective Staff Sergeant Bednarczyk of the OPP Victim Response Unit. She provided the following information in her report:
“DC O’Brien contributed to the victim experiencing secondary victimization. Secondary victimization is a result of blame, stigmatizing responses, and negative treatment. D/C O’Brien took a skeptic stance and approach to establishing whether the victim is telling the truth. She did not reflect a position of neutrality but rather a position of doubt, and needed to respond with patience and respect. Her approach risked an extremely destructive effect on the victim‘s well–being and her willingness to disclose, in addition to the impact available quality of the evidence could be garnered for the criminal justice system processing of the sexual assault case. The negative and interrogative practice used in these police interviews contributed to secondary victimization. It is important to recognize the role police officers play in the process of recovery for victims. Regardless of the evidence provided, it should be taken as valid unless evidence proved otherwise.”
This, despite the fact that DC O’Brien had training extensive relevant training including October 2011, DRPS, Investigating Crime against Children, October 2015, Ontario Police College (OPC), Investigative Interviewing, September 2015 OPC, Crimes against Children conference, August 2017.
The victim was interviewed by the SCAN program at Sick Kids Hospital as well, who found her testimony to be consistent with someone who had been sexually assaulted. The Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) Program at SickKids is managed by a team of healthcare professionals at the hospital who offer care, support and assessment to children and teenagers who may have been maltreated, and their families.
According to the OPP report DC O’Brien admitted she could have handled the interview in a more sensitive manner.
“She acknowledged it was challenging to elicit disclosure from Witness #1.(the victim) She acknowledged she could have done better in the interview, stating she should have “taken a step back and tried again.” She regretted she did not treat Witness #1 better. She did not set out to do a poor job. She acknowledged she could have been more patient, and, in her review of the interview in June 2019, she realized she became frustrated with the victim’s lack of detail.”
The Police Services Act states there must be sufficient grounds to believe misconduct occurred and DC O’Brien acted in a disorderly manner or in a manner prejudicial to discipline or likely to bring discredit upon the reputation of the police force.
The OPP found a charge of Discreditable Conduct was warranted.
“DC O’Brien ought to have known her conduct was seriously detrimental to the victim and as a result, there are reasonable grounds to believe the allegation is reasonably true and the allegation of Discreditable Conduct is substantiated.”
Peterborough Police Chief Scott Gilbert agreed with the OPP conclusion regarding Discreditable Conduct but the Chief determined that it was of a “less serious nature”. Less serious complaints may be resolved informally if everyone agrees, or if Informal Resolution fails, the Chief can resolve the matter through a disposition without a hearing. Where the conduct is determined to be serious, the Chief must hold a disciplinary hearing. Last April, Chief Gilbert told the victims father the matter would be dealt with through a disposition. This means police don’t have to publicly disclose the the disciplinary action.
“The Peterborough Police Service takes this matter very seriously, and expects our officers to act in a professional manner while following their training and respecting the rights of all citizens,” said Gilbert in a letter to the father. Unfortunately, this was not done during the interaction between your daughter and the officer, which is an issue that we will strive to ensure does not happen again.”
The Peterborough Police Service responded to our request for information and comment after this story was published.
“The Police Services Act, which governs OIPRD investigations, prevents the Peterborough Police from commenting on this ongoing investigation. The Peterborough Police Service respects the public complaint process through the OIPRD, and will continue to follow their guidelines, and that of the Police Services Act and the Service’s internal policies, with regard to officer conduct investigations.”
When it comes to the father’s allegation that the investigation itself was not handled properly the OPP report found:
“She (DC O’Brien) attended the residence of a witness to obtain a signature for consent search of the victims electronic devices. While at the residence, she observed the layout of the rooms, including the victims bedroom. She did not inspect the secondary inner door lock in her bedroom. When asked by the PSU Investigator, she could not recall if the lock was present or removed and she did not consider taking a photograph of the locking mechanism. She acknowledged, in hindsight, she could have taken a photograph of the bedroom lock. She did not consider seeking authorization for collecting DNA or fingerprint evidence, believing the accused had access to the room and the lock. She did not record her observations of the bedroom in her notebook. She did not recall receiving information the victim took a photograph of the accused rubbing cream on her younger sibling’s private area. She could not provide an explanation why the forensic analysis of victims devices was not completed. She intended to retrieve messages between the victim and a witness. A family member confirmed the messages were deleted. She did not recall whether an extraction report was completed. She could not provide notes or a report to confirm the outcome of the investigative task. She did not recall receiving information the victim used her electronic devices to search the internet to learn how to surreptitiously video record sexual assaults.”
The Peterborough Police internal investigation felt DC O’Brien did not purposely undermine the investigation.
“In his peer review, DC Stephens believed DC O’Brien approached this investigation with an open mind and a desire to determine the truth. He supported her assessment insufficient ground existed to lay charges.”
A charge of Neglect of Duty was not supported by the OPP investigation.
On Monday November 29th the OIPRD sent a letter to Chief Gilbert questioning the Chief’s decision on the serious nature of the Discreditable Conduct and the OPP finding that the allegation of Neglect of Duty was unsubstantiated and is undertaking a more thorough investigation.
“I am requesting that within 14 business days of this decision:
- Chief Gilbert provide written reasons for finding the allegation of discreditable
conduct to be less serious and send a copy of these reasons to myself, the
Complainant and Detective Constable O’Brien; and
- The OPP provide my office with their entire investigative file.” said Stephen Leach Independent Review Director.” said the letter.
Another report provided to police, authored by the Children’s Aid Society, says the accused in this case has a long history of similar allegations (no charges) against him and it was noted he was “admittedly involved in bestiality”.
It’s unclear if he will ever be charged in this case. The OPP has recommended the file be handed to the Crown Attorney but to our knowledge that has not been done.
Peterborough Police would not provide information on what, if any disciplinary action was taken against Constable O’Brien or if they plan to ever charge the suspect.
The victims father says he is upset and frustrated with the way police have handled this case.
“We turned to Peterborough Police for justice and to date we have received zero justice. I find it very distributing that still no charges have been laid against the suspect,” he told Kawartha 411 News. “Because no charges were laid, CAS is looking at moving the suspect back into the home where my children live, if the investigation had been done properly, the outcome may have prevented this from happening. The very people that we rely upon and feel are here to protect us and our children, have their own agendas and although they have procedures, have become accustomed to manipulating the system in order to protect themselves. This is not fair and not right.”
In order to protect the identity of the child we have not released the names of anyone in the family.