Toronto cops recorded mocking woman with Down syndrome plead guilty to misconduct

Two Toronto police officers plead guilty to mocking a woman with Down Syndrome.

Toronto cops recorded mocking woman with Down syndrome plead guilty to misconduct

“I said something awful and I truly do regret it,” Const. Sasa Sljivo said in the agreed statement of facts read out at a tribunal Tuesday. “I became a bully that day and I insulted a community that has never done anything to me in my life.”

By WENDY GILLIS Crime Reporter

Tues., Nov. 28, 2017

The two Toronto police officers captured on their cruiser’s dashboard camera mocking a woman with Down syndrome pleaded guilty to professional misconduct Tuesday, each apologizing for conduct they admitted negatively impacted public trust in police.

“I said something awful and I truly do regret it,” Const. Sasa Sljivo was quoted as saying in an agreed statement of facts read out at a tribunal Tuesday. “I became a bully that day and I insulted a community that has never done anything to me in my life.”

“If I could do anything or change anything . . . I really would. I am totally guilty and I don’t have anything to say for myself other than that I am sorry,” Sljivo continued.

Sljivo and his partner, Const. Matthew Saris, were charged under Ontario’s Police Services Act after they were caught giggling about Francie Munoz, a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome. Sljivo called her a “half woman” and a “little disfigured” during a traffic stop in November 2016.

Instead of the usual tribunal room at Toronto police headquarters, the hearing was held in the auditorium in order to accommodate Munoz’s family, friends and supporters, who haveconsistently attended past hearings in droves.

Sljivo pleaded guilty to using profane, abusive or insulting language, contrary to the Toronto police code of conduct. Saris pleaded guilty to neglect of duty for failing to report the comments made by Sljivo — remarks he can be heard chuckling at.

In the agreed statement of facts read out, Saris said he is generally a happy guy who tends to laugh at everything, but said that doesn’t excuse his conduct.

“The whole thing has been very embarrassing for myself, my family and the service,” Saris said. “I’m just truly sorry.”

The disparaging remarks were made in what the officers thought was a private conversation shortly after pulling over a vehicle driven by Munoz’s mother, Pamela. They hadn’t known at the time that the comments were being picked up by their in-car camera system.

Their comments were then discovered after Pamela Munoz fought an alleged traffic violation and subsequently obtained the dash cam video from the traffic stop.

Tuesday’s hearing discussed possible penalties for the officers. Any case before the quasi-judicial professional misconduct tribunal can result in consequences ranging from a reprimand to dismissal.

Prosecutor Insp. Domenic Sinopoli and the officers’ lawyer, Gary Clewley, agreed upon a combination of penalties, including mandatory unpaid work days — five for Sljivo, who was the senior officer and the one making the comments, and two for Saris. The officers would also have to take sensitivity training and volunteer for at least 20 hours with the Special Olympics committee.

Sinopoli said the proposed penalties struck the right balance. They acknowledged that the officers immediately displayed remorse by apologizing and pleading guilty to the misconduct, while punishing “completely and utterly unnecessary” comments that “mocked a vulnerable member of our community.”

“What resonated most in my mind was not the words that they uttered, it was the why,” the police prosecutor said, adding that perhaps no one, not even the officers themselves, will be able to provide an answer. He added that no penalty handed down by the tribunal “will be greater than the shame that they have already suffered.”

Sinopoli said the incident was a “black eye” on the Toronto Police Service; soon after the incident came to light, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders apologized to the family in person.

Clewley, the officers’ lawyer, said neither cop would repeat their mistake — “they dropped the ball in this occasion but they won’t drop it again.” Turning around to face Munoz during the hearing, Clewley said: “These gentlemen are genuinely sorry.”

After the hearing, the Munoz family reiterated their longtime request to have those words delivered by the officers themselves and captured on video. This summer, the officers sent a written letter apologizing for their “inexcusable remarks” and taking full responsibility, but Pamela Munoz, Francie’s mom, said it hadn’t seemed sincere.

She took notice that the officers did not take advantage of a chance to address the tribunal when it was offered by Acting Supt. Richard Hegedus, the hearing officer, at the end of the proceedings Tuesday.

“They clearly had the opportunity to apologize in the tribunal,” she said afterward. “It wasn’t the apology we were hoping for.”

Speaking to reporters outside, Clewley disagreed, saying the apology was public.

“They repeated their apology through me, in front of you folks — you were all there, at a public hearing — I don’t think they need to do it anymore. It doesn’t affect the sincerity of their regret,” Clewley said.

Sinopoli agreed, telling the tribunal that “the act of contrition need not be a public spectacle of shame.”

Hegedus reserved his decision on the penalty, saying it will be released electronically to the parties as soon as possible.

Munoz’ family did not take a position on the penalty, but Pamela Munoz told reporters she thought it was “disappointing.”

“It’s a process that’s an internal process. So, really, at times I was wondering if the prosecutor was the defence lawyer. It’s the police policing the police,” she said of the tribunal system.

The family’s lawyer, Brendan Pooran, said the reason the family did not take a position on the officers’ penalty was so they could focus on their Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario complaint, filed in September.

“The (human rights) tribunal has the jurisdiction to issue public interest remedies that would hopefully address the systemic issues that led to the discriminatory treatment that Francie incurred,” Pooran said.

Wendy Gillis can be reached at