Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh speaks during a news conference in Lethbridge, Alta., on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Rossiter

Lethbridge police officer suspended, being investigated by ASIRT over database search

Lethbridge police officer suspended, being investigated by ASIRT over database search

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Police in Alberta’s third-largest city have suspended another officer in relation to an alleged improper database search.

It’s the latest in a series of controversies that have plagued the Lethbridge Police Service and prompted the province’s justice minister to demand immediate changes in the department.

The latest incident occurred Feb. 5 when an officer is believed to have made the improper search.

The officer has been suspended with pay, an internal professional misconduct investigation has been ordered and the matter has been referred to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) for an investigation.

“Improper access of such information is taken very seriously by the Lethbridge Police Service,” officials said Monday in a news release.

“It was identified as an issue which needed to be addressed, and measures to prevent improper access of information were included in the action plan submitted to the Minister of Justice on April 13, 2021.”

A police spokesman said the latest occurrence is not related to earlier investigations involving Lethbridge NDP MLA Shannon Phillips.

Last year, two officers were temporarily demoted after a review determined Phillips, who was the environment minister in 2017, was surveilled and photographed at a diner. The officers involved were apparently concerned about changes Phillips was making regarding off-highway vehicle use at a nearby wilderness area.

Separately, five officers and one civilian are also being investigated for allegations of conducting improper database searches on Phillips while she was in cabinet in 2018.

Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Medhizadeh delivered a plan earlier this month to Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu aimed at fixing problems that had led to a threat the service could be disbanded.

The most critical area of the plan falls under ethics and accountability and includes management of conduct files, annual ethics training and a review of the police service’s social media policy.

It also involves developing better leadership in current and future police members and restrictions on access to database searches.

The Lethbridge force has been the focus of several controversies.

Last month, five police employees were suspended with pay as part of an investigation into the circulation of inappropriate images, reportedly including pictures of senior police staff pasted onto the bodies of characters from the animated “Toy Story’” movies.

The force was criticized last year for the violent takedown of a citizen wearing a “Star Wars” storm trooper costume and brandishing a toy laser blaster.

The year before that, images of a Lethbridge officer euthanizing a deer by running over the wailing animal numerous times with a police truck went viral.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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