Cops rapped for shoddy legwork after anonymous tip; drug conviction tossed
May 15, 2019 By The Canadian Press
TORONTO — A man found with cocaine after an anonymous tip has had his drug-trafficking conviction quashed because police lacked grounds to arrest him in the first place.
In entering an acquittal on Friday, Ontario’s top court faulted police in St. Thomas, Ont., for failing to do the basic legwork that could have justified the arrest and search of George Chioros that turned up the drugs.
“It should have been clear to the police that they had, at most, unconfirmed suspicions about the appellant’s possible involvement in drug dealing,” the Court of Appeal said in its ruling. “Throughout their investigation, the police failed to undertake even the most rudimentary steps to verify information.”
The case arose in September 2015, when police received a Crime Stoppers tip that Chioros was trafficking cocaine in the town south of London, Ont. Investigators began keeping tabs on him but saw no direct evidence of any drug dealing.
They arrested him in November 2015 after he went into an apartment building in London — they didn’t know which apartment but believed one unit was being used as a stash house for drugs.
Searches revealed he was carrying cocaine and had more at home.
At trial, Chioros argued police had breached his rights and the drugs found should be excluded as evidence. Superior Court Justice Kelly Gorman nevertheless upheld the arrest and searches as legitimate, and convicted him in November 2017.
The Crime Stoppers tip, Gorman found, was compelling, credible and corroborated by the police surveillance. The Appeal Court disagreed.
“Given that this was an anonymous tip, there was no evidence regarding the tipster’s credibility. Nor was there evidence regarding his reliability or motivation in providing the information,” the Appeal Court found. “It was an error, therefore, for the trial judge to find the tip to be credible.”
The higher court also took issue with the tip itself. Among other problems, the justices found the tipster made the “bald assertion” that Chioros was dealing drugs but gave no details or indication of whether the information was current or based on firsthand knowledge.
Other information provided — Chioros’s name, address, the car he drove and its licence plate number — was readily available public information, the court said.
Gorman was also wrong to find police had corroborated the tip, the court said.
“At no time did the police observe the appellant engage in any drug activity,” the Appeal Court said. “Nor did they witness him enter the apartment of the alleged major drug dealer.”
In entering an acquittal, the appellate court said police must have reasonable and probable grounds for an arrest. When those grounds include information from a secret informant, it becomes particularly important to assess the validity of that data, the court said, but investigators failed to do that.
“It is serious state misconduct when the police make a choice not to conduct a proper investigation, but instead choose to effect an arrest on a member of the public based on unconfirmed and unreliable information,” the court said. “The court cannot be seen to endorse the type of misconduct engaged in by the police in this case.”
– Colin Perkel
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