Lethbridge police chief says officers surveilling cabinet minister inexcusable

Alta. — The head of the Lethbridge Police Service in southern Alberta says it’s shameful and inexcusable that two officers did unauthorized surveillance on a provincial cabinet minister.

Chief Scott Woods also notes that temporary demotions of the two officers are considered to be on the high end of punishment.

“The actions for which these officers — Sgt. Jason Carrier and Cst. Keon Woronuk — were disciplined cannot be excused,” Woods said in a statement Tuesday. “The fact that they admitted to the charges of misconduct indicates that they acknowledge this reality. But acknowledging the wrongdoing does not take away the embarrassment and shame that has been brought upon the LPS by their actions, nor does it mitigate the justified anger and profound disappointment of Ms. (Shannon) Phillips and others in our community.”

Woods released the statement a day after a story by CHAT News revealed the results of a recent police disciplinary hearing for Carrier and Woronuk.

The two admitted that in April 2017 they had not been authorized to watch then-environment minister Phillips while she met with people in a diner to discuss a new park in the Castle region.

The plan included restricting off-road vehicles in the environmentally sensitive area. Hearing notes say both officers had a shared interest in off-roading there. Woronuk was demoted from senior constable to first-class constable for two years, and Carrier was reduced in rank to senior constable from sergeant for one year.

“While I am deeply disappointed in the actions and attitudes of the officers, I do take some consolation in knowing they have been held accountable,” said Woods in the statement.

“The sanctions that were imposed against the officers were, to use the words of the presiding officer (at the hearing), ‘significant and on the high end of what may be considered appropriate.”’

Phillips, now the Opposition NDP legislature member for Lethbridge-West, was expected to comment later Tuesday.

On Monday, she said: “It’s terrifying that law enforcement would abuse their power and contravene my rights in this way.”

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer has directed the province’s police watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, to determine if there are grounds for a criminal probe.

But Kathleen Ganley, who was justice minister at the time and is now the Opposition justice critic, called on the United Conservative government to appoint an out-of-province investigator to look into the matter.

An agreed statement of facts submitted at the disciplinary hearing, and posted by CHAT News, indicates that Carrier was on duty but on a meal break on April 17, 2017, when Phillips entered the Chef Stella Diner in Lethbridge to meet with stakeholders on the Castle region changes.

Carrier texted Woronuk, and soon after Woronuk attended the restaurant.

According to the document, the officers took photos of the meeting and, before they left, Woronuk said to Carrier that he, “would hate to see Phillips drive away from the restaurant and there was a reason to stop her.”

Woronuk was also involved in setting up surveillance, then followed one of the stakeholders while running a police information check on them.

Carrier had left the restaurant, stationed himself at a nearby parkade with a view of the diner, but left after seeing Phillips depart on foot.

The Lethbridge force has made headlines before for questionable behaviour.

In May, Woods initiated an investigation of officer conduct after a restaurant worker in a “Star Wars” storm trooper costume carrying a toy plastic gun was forced to the ground and ended up with a bloody nose.

Last year, a Lethbridge officer was investigated after a video surfaced of him repeatedly running over an injured deer in order to euthanize the animal. ASIRT determined the officer would not face criminal charges.

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