The London, Ont. chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) has penned an open letter to the city’s police chief demanding an officer be stripped of his badge after he spent the last eight months on administrative duties following his conviction for criminal negligence in the 2016 death of an Oneida woman in police custody.
In a November 2019 ruling, a London court found Const. Nicholas Doering guilty of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life to Debra Chrisjohn, 39, of Oneida of the Thames First Nation.
The letter, written by BLM spokesperson Alexandra Kane and addressed to London Police Chief Steve Williams, accuses the London Police Service and the London Police Association of hypocrisy for condemning the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, while at the same time keeping Doering on the public payroll for the last eight months.
“As I wrote this letter I was shaking,” Kane told CBC News Thursday. “Shaking with anxiety at how unbelievably unfair it is and how sickening it is.”
“What Nicholas Doering did was wrong. He was found guilty,” she said. “When somebody lets someone die on the job and is negligent and they shouldn’t have that job anymore.”
Court said Doering made assumptions about Chrisjohn, drug users
When Justice Renee Pomerance convicted Doering in November of 2019, she ruled that his assumptions about Chrisjohn and people who use drugs tinged the way he responded to the mother of 11 on the day she died.
When Doering was called to deal with Chrisjohn on Sept. 7 2016, he was told by dispatchers the officers who had dealt with her the day before had concluded she was high on methamphetamine.
She was also high on methamphetamine when she was arrested by Doering. He didn’t ask for a medical assessment from the paramedic on-scene because, Doering was told, the drugs would cause Chrisjohn’s vital signs to be “out of whack” and he would have to spend hours waiting with her in the emergency department.
Instead, Doering took Chrisjohn to the Ontario Provincial Police, where she was wanted on an oustanding warrant for breaching the terms of her release from custody.
Chrisjohn’s condition deteriorated during the ride. She slumped in her seat three times and was having difficulty communicating. The trial heard Doering pulled over, but only to make sure she hadn’t slipped out of her handcuffs.
By the time Doering arrived at the transfer point with the OPP, Chrisjohn was lying down in the back seat, unable to answer questions.
At that point Doering made false statements, according to the court, telling the OPP officers that paramedics had looked at Chrisjohn and that the 39-year-old’s condition had been the same throughout her detention.
Chrisjohn’s condition further deteriorated in OPP custody. They called paramedics and she was taken to hospital, where she died.
‘How can we trust you now if you have criminals working in your organization?’
Since then her family has been calling on the London Police Service to fire Doering and now Black Lives Matter is backing those calls.
“I thought the police were in service to protect us from the criminals. So if you have criminals working for you, who are you now? How can we trust you now if you have criminals working in your organization? I don’t understand their logic. I don’t understand why they condemn others and can’t look within their own organization.
“If this were negligence from a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a nurse, any other profession, this person would not be employed by their organization,” Kane said.
Doering has been placed on administrative duties since 2016 and has been drawing his approximately $98,000 first-class Constable salary all the while, despite having a conviction for criminal negligence on his record.
A spokesperson for London Police Chief Steve Williams did not return a request for comment from CBC News on Thursday.
Rick Robson, the president of the London Police Association, the union representing city police officers, said whatever the chief’s stance may be, Williams doesn’t get a choice.
“Whether we agree with the law or disagree with the law, it is what must unfold,” Robson said. “The chief can’t, out of his or her own volition, say, ‘I’m terminating your employment.'”
According to the Police Services Act, there must be a hearing in order to terminate the employment of a police officer in Ontario. Under the law, an officer can only be suspended without pay if he or she is serving a prison term.
While Doering has been convicted, his sentence has yet to be determined by the court.
Crown lawyer Jason Nicol told CBC News in an email the pandemic has meant Doering’s sentencing hearing may not happen until September, unless a trial judge decides otherwise.
“We have not heard from the trial judge and so we are operating on the assumption that Sept. 15 is the day,” he wrote.