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Victoria police chief to have disciplinary hearings on misconduct allegations

Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner, in this file photo. Two retired judges have determined there is enough evidence for allegations of misconduct against Victoria’s suspended police chief to hold disciplinary hearings (VPD)

Victoria’s suspended police chief is to face disciplinary hearings on allegations of inappropriate behaviour toward female staff and breach of trust involving his conduct with an officer’s wife.

British Columbia’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner issued a statement Thursday saying two retired judges found enough evidence for eight of 11 allegations against Frank Elsner to proceed to hearings.

“I would encourage the public not to rush to judgment,” said deputy commissioner Rollie Woods. “In fairness to Chief Const. Elsner, he should have his opportunity to go to the discipline proceeding … and to defend himself any way he chooses.”

Commissioner Stan Lowe appointed former judges Carol Baird Ellan and Ian Pitfield in December 2015 to look into separate allegations of discreditable conduct, inappropriate use of department equipment and deceit by the Victoria Police Department head.

Their appointments came after an internal investigation into inappropriate Twitter messages sent to a female member of another police force became public. The woman was also the wife of an officer at the Victoria Police Department.

Elsner apologized at the time, saying he was “truly sorry and humiliated.”

Ellan and Pitfield received reports with the results of two separate investigations on Feb. 24 and had 10 days to recommend whether hearings should be held. The commissioner decided this week to approve their recommendations.

None of the allegations has been proven. Elsner’s lawyer Janet Winteringham said it would be inappropriate for her client to comment at this time.

A commissioner’s statement says Pitfield found enough evidence to direct three allegations to a disciplinary hearing: that Elsner engaged in unwanted physical contact, made unwelcome sexual remarks and leered and inappropriately stared at female staff members.

The statement says Ellan concluded there was sufficient evidence for five allegations to go to a hearing, including that Elsner “engaged in conduct with the spouse of a member under his command which constituted a conflict of interest and/or a breach of trust.”

Other allegations Ellan believed should be determined at a hearing were that Elsner provided misleading information to an officer and an investigator, used department equipment for non-police purposes and attempted to procure a false or misleading statement from a potential witness.

But the statement says Ellan found there was not enough evidence to direct three allegations to a hearing, including claims that Elsner asked a potential witness to destroy electronic evidence, contacted witnesses during the investigation and attempted to erase emails from a Victoria police server.

Dates have not been set for the hearings, which are held in private. Lowe’s office said a report would be released once the process is complete.

The office said it issued Thursday’s statement in order to “maintain public confidence in the investigation of alleged misconduct and the administration of police discipline.”

But Elsner’s lawyer said she was taken aback by the statement.

“The process is intended to be a confidential one, at least at this stage. We are a bit surprised that a statement has been issued by the police complaint commissioner at all,” said Winteringham.

“All Chief Const. Elsner can do is maintain his principled approach, which is that he’ll comment at the appropriate time and not before.”

Woods said the commissioner has decided the case is in the public interest. He also said Elsner has made public statements himself, including in an affidavit filed in B.C. Supreme Court last month.

Elsner petitioned the court to stop the investigations, saying he’s being targeted by a group that wants him ousted as chief constable.

“I would like to resign as chief constable so I can take care of health and try to move on with my life,” he said in a Feb. 22 affidavit. “I am forced to wait for the conclusion of what seems like a never-ending investigation.”

Woods said there is nothing in the Police Act that prevents Elsner from resigning. If he chooses to step down before the disciplinary hearings are held, he will not have to attend them.