A Victoria police officer convicted of assault this week may face further punishment, says the province’s office of the police complaints commissioner.
A provincial court judge found Tuesday that Sgt. George Chong, a 29-year veteran of the force, had used excessive force when he put Frank Blair in a choke hold while Blair was being fingerprinted in the department’s jail block. Blair subsequently lost consciousness and fell, hitting his head on the floor.
Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods says now that the criminal case is complete, his office will review it to see if further action should be taken.
“We wanted to see what the judge said before making a decision,” Woods said. “We thought his reasons for the decision might assist us.”
A prior internal disciplinary review led by Victoria police Chief Jamie Graham will be the focus of the OPCC Police Act investigation. During the review, Graham determined that Chong had failed to provide Blair with the proper duty of care, but that the officer had not used excessive force.
“We’re not trying to comment on or criticize Chief Graham’s decision,” said Woods. “(The criminal trial and internal review) are separate investigations held by separate people and have separate standards. In court the judge has the benefit of hearing the testimony of witnesses and it’s not fair to think that Chief Graham got it wrong or the judge got it wrong.”
Woods said his office has ordered the court transcripts from Chong’s case and that they will proceed in one of two ways. One is a public hearing, which requires fresh witness testimony, and the other is a review on the record, which would see a retired judge review the evidence and make a decision based on that.
“Process-wise, we prefer to use the review on the record because it’s quicker, it’s far less expensive, and if we’re satisfied that the evidence was properly canvassed, it makes no sense to bring it back and review it again,” Woods said, adding that the OPCC hopes to decide on a course of action by mid-December.
“The department will continue to respect that process,” Chief Graham said in a release.
VicPD releases assault tape
Closed-circuit video of Sgt. George Chong’s assault of Frank Blair was released by Victoria police Friday in the interest of transparency, according to a statement issued by Chief Constable Jamie Graham.
“The Victoria Police Department has determined that release of the cell video depicting the incident is in the public interest,” Graham said. “The video was reviewed in open court during the assault trial, and is therefore a matter of public record.”
Footage from two different cameras is included on the video, but there is no audio component. It begins in the moments prior to Blair’s initial fingerprinting and continues through to the minutes after he was assaulted.
“No camera view shows a clear view of Mr. Blair’s face,” Graham said. “There is also no audio portion, as the jail cameras do not have that capability. Therefore, it is not possible for anyone to see or hear exactly what Sgt. Chong or the other jail staff members experienced.
“What is evident from the video is that Mr. Blair was agitated and continued to act in a manner that was resistant. What cannot be determined from the video are the additional and more subtle observations that Sgt. Chong made, and which caused him to believe that violence was imminent.”
Graham added that his department will be reviewing the court findings as soon as they receive a copy of the transcript.