Two Police Officers Fired In Stonechild Case
Two police officers fired in Stonechild case
They deny any role in death of native teen who froze in 1990 outside Saskatoon
By KATHERINE HARDING
With a report from Canadian Press
Saturday, November 13, 2004 - Page A6
Fourteen years after an aboriginal teen was found frozen to death in a field outside of Saskatoon, two police officers have been fired for their involvement in the case.
Saskatoon Police Constables Larry Hartwig and Bradley Senger "are each unsuitable for police service by reason of their conduct," Police Chief Russell Sabo told a packed news conference yesterday.
Reading from a statement, the chief said the case was a "highly significant issue for this community" and the officers were dismissed for "failing to diligently and promptly report" information or evidence to officials about Neil Stonechild being in their custody on Nov. 24, 1990, the frigid night the 17-year-old went missing.
Five days later, two construction workers found Mr. Stonechild dead.
While the firings drew high praise from Mr. Stonechild's family and native leaders, Saskatoon's police union was disappointed.
Both officers have denied any connection to the teen's death, and are going to request separate hearings into Mr. Sabo's decision.
"We need this hearing so these guys get due process like anybody else," said Stan Goertzen, the police union's president.
Mr. Hartwig and Mr. Senger had been suspended without pay since Oct. 26, the day a public inquiry rejected their repeated claims that they had no dealings with Mr. Stonechild on the night he disappeared. The inquiry didn't assign blame for his death.
Mr. Justice David Wright, who led the $2-million inquiry conducted earlier this year, also concluded that the Saskatoon police force's original investigation into the incident was "superficial and totally inadequate."
Back then, the force said Mr. Stonechild died after trying to walk to an adult jail to turn himself in for running away from a youth home.
More than a decade after he died, Mr. Stonechild's death was reviewed. An RCMP task force was formed in 2000 to investigate the Saskatoon police force after an aboriginal man came forward to say that officers had left him on the city's outskirts.
Two police officers were found guilty of unlawfully confining the witness. They served time and were eventually fired from the force.
Mr. Stonechild's mother, Stella Bignell, said in a statement relayed through her lawyer, Don Worme, that she was pleased the officers in her son's case were fired.
Mr. Worme said Ms. Bignell "simply expressed she was grateful to Chief Sabo for this very difficult decision. It's obviously a courageous decision."
She was "deeply hurt" by the fact that rank-and-file officers were standing behind Mr. Hartwig and Mr. Senger, he added.
Lawrence Joseph, vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, applauded Mr. Sabo's decision in the Stonechild case, and urged that it be the start of a long-needed "rebuilding" process between aboriginals and the Saskatoon police force.
In his report about the Stonechild case, Judge Wright wrote the case reminded him of the "chasm that separates aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in this city and province.
"The deficiencies in the investigation go beyond incompetence or neglect," he wrote. "They were inexcusable."
While he said he found Judge Wright's report "troubling," Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell has said there isn't enough evidence to lay charges against Mr. Hartwig and Mr. Senger.
Colin Boyd, an ethics professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said Mr. Sabo's decision "provided much-needed leadership on this issue."
Since the public inquiry report was released, Saskatoon's police union has bitterly complained that the officers were being unfairly treated, and 200 officers voted unanimously to support them.
That reaction prompted some members of the community to call for the force to be disbanded.
"[Mr. Sabo's] decision today is going to bring things to a head. He's calling the bluff of the rank and file," Prof. Boyd said. "It's not clear whether they are going to take him on."