Published in the Vancouver Observer news site | December 15, 2011 | Circulation: 100,000 average monthly readers.
Deputy police chief Doug LePard – who authored an internal review into the botched Robert Pickton murder investigation – fended off suggestions of wider police department failures, standing by his report at the Missing Women’s Inquiry today and its conclusions that although the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) failed to act, two Vancouver detectives in particular “compromised” the Pickton case with sexist and racist bias and a refusal to follow orders.
Kevin Woodall, lawyer for one of those two officers — detective constable Doug Fell – interrogated the deputy chief for several hours on how Fell (along with his partner, detective constable Mark Wolthers) were able to allegedly “compromise” the investigation without any documentation of complaints or wrong-doing at the time.
Robert William Pickton, who is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison for the second-degree murders of six women, was linked to 33 women’s deaths by DNA evidence, and admitted to murdering at least 16 more. However, the Crown stayed most of his charges in a contentious decision.
“If they weren’t so dismissive of Pickton”
Rehashing his testimony at the end of a gruelling 12 days on the stand, LePard admitted under questioning that, in fact, Fell and Wolthers were early adopters of the theory that a serial killer was murdering women from the Downtown Eastside in the late 1990s, at a time when others were dismissive and reluctant to adopt such a view. The problem was, they were busy chasing another suspect – a serial rapist from Alberta, “Person of Interest 390,” who was arrested.
“If they weren’t so dismissive of Pickton as a suspect, they might have been more alive to what information they might have been able to receive about him that might have been helpful,” LePard testified about Fell and Wolthers’ refusal to follow up on tips about Pickton.
“I have spoken to Detective Constable Wolthers personally about that issue and he was extremely dismissive.”
Abusive language toward victims and female staff
LePard claimed that the officers had compromised the investigation by using “abusive and using inappropriate language towards victims and female staff”, and claimed that Wolthers and Fell “compromised the investigation in terms of team dynamics.”
But Woodall countered by asking whether any of the files reveal complaints made at the time against the two officers – at very least, notes about their conduct.
The answer: No — except for a single hand-written memo from Vancouver Police Department (VPD) sergeant Geramy Field, head of the investigation, which read, “Meet with Doug (Fell) and Mark (Wolthers) re: duties and tenure,” followed later by, “Advise Doug and Mark will remain on team.”
The cross-examination then turned to what LePard agreed was the key finding of his report:
“The VPD should have recognized that there was a serial killer at work and responded appropriately, but the investigation was plagued by a failure at the VPD’s management level to recognize what it was faced with.”
Woodall pushed LePard to admit that, if that were indeed the VPD’s main failure – which allowed Pickton to continue killing women for four years until his 2002 arrest — blame could not be pinned on Fell and Wolthers as LePard insisted.
“Whatever criticism might be levelled at other members of the Vancouver Police Department, that criticism can’t be levelled at Fell and Wolthers, because they were very early adopters of the serial killer theory,” Woodall argued.
“Yes, that’s very true – they were convinced early on,” LePard agreed.
On Friday, the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry meets for the last time until 2012, and will hear from Marion Bryce, whose daughter Patricia Johnson went missing from the Downtown Eastside in 2001 – though her death was linked to Pickton, hers was among the dropped charges. The inquiry – chaired by former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal — has come under fire from families of Pickton’s victims, as well as community groups, who said they are being “re-victimized” by the process.