OPP top brass dismissed initial investigation into video of woman assaulted in custody

A retired Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) sergeant shares the story of how he alerted the provincial force to the existence of a disturbing video of a jail assault by an officer, in a frustrating experience that he says, demonstrates a blind spot in police accountability.

But Ret. Sergeant. Robin Moore said OPP brass told her in a letter that there wasn’t even any misconduct, even though years later a judge would convict the officer, Bailey Nicholls, of one crime: assault causing bodily harm.

“It was really surreal. It was hard to believe this was happening,” Moore told CTV News in an interview, where he spoke publicly for the first time about the long experience.

The saga began on September 7, 2019, when Const. Bailey Nichols can be seen on surveillance video grabbing a woman arrested for public intoxication by the neck and pushing her head against the bars of the cell at the Orillia detachment.

The incident was not reported to the police watchdog, the SIU, at the time, even though the woman was bleeding and needed five staples.

The OPP has said the woman received medical assistance and the extent of her injuries was unclear to officers at the time, and has said subsequent internal investigations did not obtain the information necessary to report to the SIU or allege misconduct.

Moore said he learned about the video through a contact within the police service, Const. Carlos Ostrom. Ostrom previously told CTV News how damaging it was for him to watch the video, which he said did not match reports of the incident. Ostrom said he tried to report the incident internally, but it got nowhere.

“There is a fear of retaliation in that organization if you speak out,” Moore said. “Then he would have been punished. But they couldn’t touch me.”

Moore said he emailed OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique about the incident in April 2020, concerned that the incident had been mishandled and was being swept under the rug.

“That is a crime scene that should have been closed immediately. And then the notifications that are made from there,” she said.

About a month and a half later, he received a letter from the commander of the professional standards office, Chief Supt. Marty Kearns.

“I can report that in my capacity as Commander of the Office of Professional Standards, a review of this incident has been conducted and I am satisfied that no misconduct was committed by all officers involved,” Kearns wrote in the letter, dated Sept. 29. of May. 2020.

Kearns has since been promoted to deputy commissioner of the OPP.

When CTV News asked the OPP how Kearns came to that conclusion, spokesperson A/S/Sgt. Robert Simpson said: “The initial decisions made regarding the misconduct were based on the information that was available at the time…The information regarding the severity of the injury did not meet the threshold for notification to the SIU.”

Simpson said at that time the OPP notified the SIU about the incident, but the agency did not invoke its mandate.

Moore believed the short turnaround in his response was a sign that investigators were not taking the case seriously, so he also turned to the SIU. In July, the agency received information about the severity of the woman’s injuries and at that time invoked her mandate.

“The OPP did not receive this information,” Simpson said.

It’s unclear how much more information a police force would need beyond the video to find a reason to investigate deeper, said University of Toronto criminologist Patrick Watson.

“There has to be a very, very high threat threshold for a police officer to use that type of control or restraint on an individual,” Watson said.

Watson said the case demonstrates the need for an independent agency to investigate, which the province has in the form of the SIU.

“[The OPP] he believed it reflected reasonable conduct. And I think this raises issues of concern about the OPP’s interpretation of events versus a citizen’s interpretation of events,” he said.

The criminal case is not over: Nicholls has said he feared for his safety at this time and the Ontario Provincial Police Association has stated its intention to appeal.

Const. OPP. Bailey Nicholls leaves the courthouse in Collingwood, Ont., Thursday, April 4, 2024. (CTV News/Mike Arsalides)

The OPP says that because the SIU invoked its mandate, it will review the incident and does not rule out further disciplinary action for any officers involved.

Moore said he believes OPP brass should have seen sooner what he saw in that video, and what a judge saw, too.

“They were trying to make it go away. They wanted me to leave and I wasn’t going to leave,” she said.

Leave a Comment