Second complaint against Kelowna Mountie prompts calls for more transparency
VANCOUVER -- The Mountie seen on video punching a suspect several times last month was also the subject of another complaint by a Kelowna man who is calling for more transparency in police discipline.
Kelowna resident Nathan Stroeder has come forward to say he complained after an incident where, Stroeder says, Const. Siggy Pietrzak rushed him at his door while arresting a roommate back in 2017.
“Thankfully I was able to slam the door in his face, otherwise I think he would have done the same to me,” Stroeder told CTV News last week. He said he decided to come forward so the public knew more about the officer seen in the video.
“There’s nothing top secret about this. And we all have a right to know. We’re all taxpayers,” he said.
Pietrzak was exonerated in the investigation into Stroeder’s complaint by another Mountie, which found that Stroeder was getting in the way of a lawful arrest.
“He was justified in warning you that an arrest may occur if you continued to obstruct and interfere while he was executing his duties,” reads a report from Kelowna’s Officer in Charge, Brett Mundle.
Const. Siggy Pietrzak is the officer seen in a video CTV News Vancouver reported on earlier this month. In the video, two officers struggle to arrest a man in a Kelowna parking lot Saturday evening. A third officer – later identified as Pietrzak -- shows up and quickly begins swinging at the suspect's head. The RCMP is reviewing that incident.
Police discipline is changing in many American jurisdictions after the death of George Floyd. The officer in Floyd’s case faced at least 17 previous complaints.
Many police departments in the United States, including New York, are opening up records of police discipline in the hopes that it will provide transparency and act as a check on unacceptable behaviour by officers.
“Transparency is not something to fear,” said New York Mayor Bill De Blasio recently. “It’s something to embrace. Because that’s where trust builds, in the open, just as it would be for many of us.”
But only a small minority of police discipline records are made public in B.C. The RCMP watchdog, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, has the option to initiate and report publicly on investigations, but the most recent one on its website is from 2018.
The CRCC did not answer any of CTV’s questions about what happened in Stroeder’s case. The RCMP said in general they don’t comment about these cases to protect officers’ privacy.
B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner supervises investigations into complaints into municipal forces. The Commissioner has the power to make the results public in some cases, and to hold public hearings, but does so only at its discretion. Cases are confidential by default under the Police Act.
The OPCC received 1,326 complaints in 2018/19. It appointed a retired judge to review cases, held a review on the record, or had a public hearing 9 times in that year. The office has recently commented on cases that have been publicly reported already.
“You need to do full investigations involving complaints,” said former Solicitor-General Kash Heed. Heed pointed to a report in 2009 by Josiah Woods, which recommended that civilian police oversight bodies have real-time digital access to all files in a police complaint record.
“Until we lift the veil and truly be transparent we’re going to have this public mistrust,” he said.
Stroeder said he attempted to complain about Pietrzak the night of the encounter, but the complaint wasn’t accepted. Eventually he complained to the CRCC, which he said accepted his complaint, and forwarded it to Kelowna for investigation.
Mounties appointed Sgt. Jon Collins to investigate. Mundle’s report says that Stroeder didn’t want to provide further statements than what he had told to the CRCC. It also says that Sgt. Collins couldn’t find Stroeder’s roommate to do an interview.
The report doesn’t say whether Collins examined the scene or looked for any marks on the door.
Kelowna’s RCMP detachment is facing scrutiny also for the case of Mona Wang, who was dragged down the hall by an officer doing a wellness check. Video shows the officer putting a foot on her head.
Stroeder believes police officers should face the same ongoing scrutiny as other public servants such as teachers or nurses, whose discipline records are often put online.
“I just hope you can bring some positive change and prevent future incidents like this,” he said.