Police commission reverses course, orders hearing into case of Edmonton officer 'pressured' into dropping complaint

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The Edmonton Police Commission has reversed course in the case of an ex-city police constable who claims she was pressured into dropping a complaint against a fellow officer.

In 2018, Katherine Nelson filed a complaint against an Edmonton Police Service (EPS) detective who was assisting another agency in investigating Nelson’s sexual assault complaint against a colleague.

Nelson claims she was convinced to drop the complaint against the detective during an interview with the EPS Professional Standards Branch (PSB).

She later tried to have the complaint reinstated but was shot down by Police Chief Dale McFee and the Edmonton Police Commission, who deemed her attempts “vexatious.”

The independent Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB) reviewed the police commission’s decision and in a February decision ordered commissioners to reconsider.

“Having now had the opportunity to review the entirety of Ms. Nelson’s PSB interview, including the audio/video recordings, the commission concludes that Ms. Nelson was not capable of providing valid informed consent to withdraw her complaint given her mental state at the time of the interview,” the commission wrote in a decision dated April 22.

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“She was too emotionally distraught to make the decision to withdraw her complaint, and her verbal withdrawal was therefore not valid.”

Nelson claims she was groped in her hotel room by a fellow officer during a 2016 training session in Green Bay, Wis.

In early 2018, she filed a complaint against EPS Det. Marci Koshowski, who was assisting Green Bay police in the investigation from Edmonton. Nelson claims Koshowski shared text messages from her work phone with investigators in Wisconsin, and that Koshowski suggested those messages were evidence Nelson and the colleague were romantically involved.

On May 23, 2018, Nelson sat for an interview with a PSB detective, during which she agreed to withdraw her complaint against Koshowski. During the interview, Det. Darren Smith became concerned about Nelson’s mental health and asked the EPS crisis team to assess her for committal under the Mental Health Act.

Nelson later said she felt “very pressured and upset and agreed, in some way, to drop the complaint as she felt it was futile.” In December 2018 Nelson wrote to the police service, asking that the complaint be revived because she was in a fragile mental state and never signed an official complaint withdrawal form.

Former EPS constable Katherine Nelson, seen in an undated photo.
Former EPS constable Katherine Nelson, seen in an undated photo.

‘Sniffling, quietly crying, sobbing’

McFee decided Nelson’s complaint against Koshowski had been properly closed, and treated Nelson’s December 2018 letter as a duplication of a previous complaint and thus “vexatious.” He recommended the police commission sign off on the decision — which it did in July 2020.

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Nelson appealed to the Law Enforcement Review Board, which found in her favour.

In particular, the review board noted the commission had not independently reviewed video of the May 2018 interview, which showed Nelson “sniffling, quietly crying, sobbing, sighing, and wiping her face with a tissue.”

“The commission … accepted without question the chief’s conclusion that the first complaint was properly withdrawn,” the review board wrote.

After reviewing the record, commissioners concluded the complaint was not vexatious and should proceed to a disciplinary hearing.

Commissioners added that they found no evidence Smith pressured or coerced Nelson into dropping the complaint. “She simply wasn’t in the proper state of mind that day to be able to validly withdraw her complaint.”

Police commission vice-chair John McDougall dissented, saying there is no evidence Nelson was incapable of consenting to withdrawing her complaint.

“The fact that someone may be emotional, depressed or even contemplating self-harm does not necessarily impact their capacity to provide valid, informed consent,” he wrote, adding there is no requirement that a complaint withdrawal form be signed.

He added it was unfair to Koshowski to have to defend herself against a complaint she believed was withdrawn three years ago.

No dates have been set for Koshowski’s hearing.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

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