OPP Insp. Pat Morris pleads guilty to discreditable conduct
PACKET & TIMES PHOTO Orillia OPP Insp. Pat Morris is pictured.
The man leading Orillia OPP pleaded guilty to discreditable conduct earlier this year after becoming "inappropriately" involved in a police investigation.
Insp. Pat Morris entered the guilty plea under the police service's code of conduct during an April disciplinary hearing before OPP Supt. Greg Walton for his involvement in a case last summer after a young driver threw a bottle out of his window at a passing motorcyclist.
"Inspector Morris knew or reasonably ought to have known his actions were discreditable," Walton wrote in the disciplinary report obtained by the Packet & Times.
"After reviewing all of the evidence and considering the submissions, I accept the joint penalty position and order Inspector Morris to forfeit 50 hours."
Morris declined to discuss the matter when contacted Thursday.
During the tribunal, Walton heard Morris took an active role in an ongoing criminal investigation involving an unidentified youth he knew.
It all began Aug. 6, 2015, when Const. Robert Brigden saw a youth driving in front of him throw a Gatorade bottle out of the window, striking a motorcyclist travelling in the opposite direction. The youth then veered into the oncoming lane, accelerated and sped off, travelling through the streets of Orillia.
Brigden followed, observed the driver failing to stop at a stop sign and activated the lights and siren. The youth pulled over and was arrested and charged.
Later that day, the boy's father called Morris, since the inspector knew both the man and his son.
The next day, an off-duty Morris used his personal cellphone to call Brigden to ask about the incident. Morris told Brigden he knew the family and that the youth was a "good kid" and that the conduct was out of character for him.
Morris then asked Brigden whether he had considered "diversion" (i.e. community service, apology letter, etc.) instead of laying a criminal charge, and told the officer to call him back after he had spoken to the boy's father.
Morris next called Sgt. Robin Moore, Brigden's direct supervisor, to make further queries about the investigation. Morris also reiterated his hope the charge could be dealt with through diversion, telling Moore the youth was a "good kid" from a good family, who had "screwed up."
He also told Moore he would be in touch later that evening to see how the meeting between Brigden and the youth's father went.
When Brigden returned to work several days later, Morris again asked him about the investigation and indicated he would like to attend the meeting between the younger officer and Crown attorney, when the charge was to be discussed.
He also told Brigden he had received numerous text messages from the youth's father, who was concerned for his son with regard to the pending criminal charges.
A couple of weeks later, Morris showed Brigden a text message he had sent the youth's father, saying he couldn't get involved in the matter because "it would be a conflict of interest." The report indicated Morris had heard Brigden felt he was "butting his nose" into his investigation. Morris also spoke with Moore to make it clear he wasn't interfering.
Morris later received an apology letter via email from the youth that he then printed, placed in an official OPP envelope and delivered personally to the motorcyclist.
"Inspector Morris identified himself as an OPP officer and as a friend of the family," the report reads. "He further indicated that he was there on behalf of the youth's family. (The motorcyclist) was left with the impression Inspector Morris was the detachment liaison officer."
Morris didn't give Brigden a copy of the apology letter that included an "exculpatory statement" with respect to the incident. The officer later obtained the letter from the motorcyclist and ensured it was disclosed as required in the court file.
Morris later approached an assistant Crown attorney outside of office hours to talk about the case and again mentioned the possibility of diversion. The lawyer disagreed and also suggested Morris's actions were inappropriate. Brigden didn't learn for some time this particular meeting had taken place without him.
Morris was represented at the April meeting by Commissioned Officers' Association president Insp. John Trude, while Insp. Charles Young served as counsel representing the OPP's professional standards bureau (PSB).
In his decision, Walton noted since Morris pleaded guilty, the main issue revolved around determining the appropriateness of the proposed joint sanction.
"I am not concerned about Inspector Morris' ability to reform; I do not anticipate behaviour of a similar nature in the future," Walton said in the report. "I view this as an isolated incident and I found his apology to be completely genuine."
But Walton said he found the evidence clear and convincing that Morris committed serious misconduct.
"The public must recognize that the OPP will not tolerate behaviour of this nature; this violation of trust must be viewed as a significant aggravating factor," he wrote in his decision.
"This was not an incident in isolation; it was a series of transgressions. Inspector Morris had an opportunity to evaluate his actions at every juncture."
As a mitigating factor, Walton pointed out Morris has been a model police officer with an exemplary record, who took responsibility immediately when approached by PSB investigators and apologized to those affected by his actions.
"Inspector Morris has a very high-profile position in his community and is very active in the community personally," he said. "He is very well known and respected for his extensive personal and professional commitments."
By taking into account both the mitigating and aggravating factors of the case, Walton said he found the sanction "fair, measured and appropriate."
"Specifically, Inspector Morris is required to work an additional 50 hours beyond what is expected of him as the detachment commander of Orillia detachment, to be completed at the earliest opportunity in consultation and agreement with his regional commander."
Young told the Packet & Times Morris accepted full responsibility and the matter was resolved at the earliest opportunity.
"Part of being human is that we make mistakes from time to time," he said. "The important piece for anyone is that we learn from those mistakes as we move forward. Insp. Morris is a professional, dedicated commander and community leader. He continues to be held in the highest of regards by the OPP."