May 25, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
The officer in charge of the Winnipeg police homicide unit admits misleading his own investigators about the dramatic changes that rocked the squad earlier this year.
Staff Sgt. Mike Stephens was called before a provincial labour board hearing Friday to explain his role in the transfer of the unit's most seasoned investigator. Staff Sgt. James Jewell was shipped out of homicide without any warning or explanation, despite having two more years remaining on his term.
Stephens told arbitrator Arne Peltz on Friday he deliberately withheld key details from officers in the unit -- including the fact they had already selected Jewell's replacement, who had just been promoted from constable and had no experience in the field. Instead, he told officers the process was ongoing and considering several candidates.
"You're here today, trying to defend the indefensible," said Keith LaBossiere, the lawyer representing Jewell and the Winnipeg Police Association. Stephens -- who only came into the supervisory position weeks before Jewell was sent packing -- admits the situation could have been handled better.
"It's unfortunate," he said.
Jewell and the police association have filed a grievance with the labour board, saying he was the victim of a "punitive" act for speaking out about changes in the department, which has one of the highest clearance rates of all homicide units in Canada. He learned of his transfer on March 15 -- four days after going above his chain of command to appeal to Chief Keith McCaskill.
Jewell testified earlier this week how he spoke to his superiors about a policy that moves homicide investigators out of the unit after three years and was asked by senior management to sit on a committee to study homicide unit operations. Stephens, who was in human resources at the time, agreed with the recommendations, which included increasing tenure to five years.
Jewell learned earlier this year that two of his homicide investigators were to be transferred, as per existing policy. He asked his direct supervisors, Stephens and Insp. Rick Guyader, to grant extensions, but his request was denied. Jewell said he then met with McCaskill, though Stephens warned him "certain people aren't going to be impressed by you going over their heads," and was told the transfers would go through.
On Friday, Stephens couldn't recall issuing such a warning but insisted Jewell's abrupt transfer wasn't related to his meeting with the chief.
"That's not just me, that doesn't sound like something I would say," said Stephens. Much of his testimony echoed that of Guyader, who told the hearing on Thursday how the decision to move Jewell was "business, not personal."
Stephens admits he changed his tune about extending tenure in homicide to five years, the same as most major police departments across Canada and the United States. He said Friday he thought homicide work was taking too heavy a toll on investigators.
"Someone has to think of the human side of it, to think of the work-life balance," said Stephens.
Jewell, a police officer for 24 years, was appointed as a supervising sergeant of the homicide unit in 2009 on a four-year term, but Guyader and Stephens took advantage of a clause that allows for an annual "opt-out." Typically, officers are given several months' advance notice of a pending transfer. Jewell received none. The move stunned members of the homicide unit, especially since the other supervising sergeant, Ken Shipley, retired this spring. That left the high-stakes unit with no experienced leadership in a job where continuity is often essential to solving cases.
"It's not the best-case scenario," Stephens admitted under cross-examination.
Stephens agreed he had told Jewell it was important for him to help Shipley's replacement transition into the new job -- when in reality he was secretly planning to move Jewell as well. He denied the move was punitive but part of a vision he shared with Guyader for a "new direction."
The arbitration hearing has now been adjourned until July 18.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2011 A13