The Edmonton Police Service is reviewing an incident in which an officer posted a photo of two officers posing with a shirtless and handcuffed man who was arrested while allegedly high on drugs.
"This fine young man was so thrilled with the service we provided him that he wanted to commemorate the moment with a picture," stated the caption on the photo posted to EPS Const. Mike Roblin's Instagram account on May 9.
"Just kidding, he was so high he thought he was on Mars," read the caption, which included the hashtags #summertimepolicing and #dontdodrugskids.
Dr. Haquike Virani, a specialist in addiction and public health at the University of Alberta, said the posted photo of the posed prisoner was "heartbreaking, disappointing, repulsive, infuriating."
"Disappointing because I do know some police officers who are sincerely trying to understand and help people who are struggling with substances [abuse], poverty or homelessness," said Virani, who also has an inner-city clinic.
Virani said incidents like this will make it more difficult to reach out to "excluded populations."
"This is not the type of thing that helps us earn their confidence and trust. And I worry that it will push those folks further out to the margins and not give us access to help," he said.
Virani said if anyone in the medical profession did something similar there would be serious consequences. He said the officer who posted the photo had no concerns about publicly ridiculing a person with addiction issues.
"It makes me concerned about what happens when we're not looking," he said. "And that resonates with the stories that I hear from patients who have had encounters with police officers."
Lawyer calls for formal investigation
Edmonton criminal defence lawyer Tom Engel called the photo and behaviour of the officers "despicable."
"They seem to try to use the cover that they are warning kids not to use drugs," said Engel, whose law firm specializes in police misconduct cases. He is also the chair of the policing committee of the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association of Alberta. "But that is not really what is going on here."
"They have sought to deliberately humiliate this person and to make a mockery of him."
"This is just despicable behaviour by these two officers and it portrays a despicable attitude. It is something that the chief of police has to root out in the Edmonton Police Service."
Engel said the officers in the photo, who have not been identified, would never dare post a photo of anyone "who they thought could stand up for themselves or have anybody who would stand up for them."
Edmonton police conducting review
The photo has been deleted from Roblin's account, but a citizen captured it and complained to the service's professional standards branch on May 11.
The citizen recently contacted Engel because they believed the EPS was not taking the complaint seriously.
Engel said the fact that Roblin blacked out the person's face before posting it reduces the breach of his privacy, but it doesn't eliminate it because the man himself, and others, may still recognize who he is had they seen the posted photo.
EPS spokesperson Patrycja Mokrzan confirmed that its professional standards branch had been "made aware of the post" on May 11.
But Mokrzan did not refer to it as a complaint. Instead, she said "the concern has been assigned to the named officer's work area for review and determination of the appropriate outcome. This concern is still being reviewed and has not yet been concluded."
Engel said EPS is attempting to avoid dealing with the matter as a formal complaint that would require the chief to direct a full disciplinary investigation.
A formal investigation would also be subject to potential future review by the provincial Law Enforcement Review Board if the complainant did not agree with the chief's ruling on the matter.
Engel said it is unacceptable to deal with this informally because Roblin has a disciplinary record.
Officer has disciplinary record
A judge found Roblin guilty of assault causing bodily harm for a 2015 incident in which a fellow EPS member was punched at a wedding party and suffered a serious concussion.
The judge granted Roblin a conditional discharge, but he later pleaded guilty to discreditable conduct at an internal disciplinary hearing on Jan. 31, 2017.
Roblin is also one of several officers now being investigated by the professional standards branch for conducting a search without a warrant of the property of a well-known inner-city slum landlord and convicted drug dealer.
In 2019, the Law Enforcement Review Board ordered the police to re-investigate after it found the original investigation was substandard.
Engel said if Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee doesn't deal with this as a formal complaint under the provincial Police Act, which would require a proper investigation and transparent reporting of its findings, then the provincial director of law enforcement "should step in and take over the investigation."
"I don't know what kind of training or what kind of culture [these officers] come from within the police service," Engel said, "but I think the chief has to deal with this very harshly."
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