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Waterville man dies in single-vehicle crash
The Cape Breton Regional Police force is the subject of an investigation over the department’s handling of a probe into the recent death of a 17-year-old boy who was struck and killed walking home from a graduation party.
Halifax Regional Police Staff Sgt. Kevin Smith said he and other officers at the department are conducting the investigation, which includes allegations of police misconduct. The probe would likely conclude early in the new year, he said.
“It will be an overview of the entire circumstances of the case,” said Smith.
Until this past summer, Smith had been an investigating officer with the province’s Serious Incident Response Team.
CBRP’s investigation into Joneil Hanna’s death has come under heavy public criticism with family and friends of the victim continuing to protest what they view as an inadequate investigation.
Hanna was struck and killed after leaving a raucous grad party in Leitches Creek this past June. Though the driver of the vehicle, 21-year-old Hayden Laffin, was allegedly seen drinking at the party, he was given permission to leave the property by a Cape Breton Regional police officer. After the fatal collision about a kilometre away, he was not subjected to a breathalyzer. Laffin ended up being charged with obstruction of justice.
The victim’s father, John Parr, prompted the current police probe into the Cape Breton force’s handling of the case by filing a complaint to the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner back in September.
That triggered an investigation. Under the rules of the probe, CBRP Chief Peter McIsaac is allowed to conduct an internal investigation. Shortly after filing his complaint, Parr said he was contacted twice by Cape Breton Regional police officers to discuss his complaint in person but refused, insisting he wanted the investigation conducted by an independent party.
Parr said he’s been in touch with Smith by telephone but has not been provided any details on the status of the investigation.
“It is reassuring to know that someone other than the Cape Breton Regional Police is looking into what I think was a terrible investigation,” said Parr. “But for the sake of impartiality, I’d rather it not be another police department in the province.”
The victim’s mother, Jenn Hanna, agrees and says she’s hopeful someone will end up being held accountable for her son’s death.
Hanna said she had a meeting with crown prosecutor Kathryn Pentz, who is in charge of the case against Laffin. A preliminary hearing is set for March to determine whether there’s enough evidence against Laffin to proceed to trial.
Hanna said during the Nov. 28 meeting, also attended by two investigators involved her son’s case, Pentz admitted it was the most bizarre file she’s ever been involved in.
Pentz denied making the admission but did say, “There is one aspect of the case that is really unusual.”
But because it relates to evidence that will be presented at the hearing, she couldn’t comment further.
Hanna said she was also told by Pentz that officers who arrived first at the fatal incident believed the victim had been stabbed to death. She said that’s why police let everyone at the scene go home, including Laffin, without being questioned.
Pentz said she could neither confirm nor deny this.
Hanna said the main reason she inquired about meeting with the prosecutor was to find what she calls the real reason Laffin had not been subjected to a breathalyzer.
Neither Smith or the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner spokesman Jeff Garber would say who prompted the independent investigation.
The police complaints commissioner has the option of appointing an outside police force to investigate but McIsaac insisted in an emailed statement to The Chronicle Herald that he requested the Halifax Regional Police probe. But McIssac, who’s continually dismissed criticism of his department’s handling of the case, would not explain why Cape Breton officers had wanted to meet with the victim’s father in person.
“... Because of my complete trust and confidence in the actions of our officers, I requested an outside agency — HRP — to conduct this investigation, for the interest of transparency to the public,” he wrote.
Either way, Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie University law professor, says the third party investigation is a good thing.
“Enough questions have been raised and enough attention has been focused on this it seems the best way to restore public confidence in the local police force and their actions is to have an independent outside look at (it),” said MacKay. “Have them determine whether they in fact think everything has been done as it should have been.”