Discipline for Edmonton police officers behind drug-arrest photo inadequate, lawyer says

Three Edmonton police officers responsible for a photo, posted to social media, that ridiculed a shirtless, handcuffed prisoner allegedly high on drugs have received additional training following an internal investigation — a disciplinary decision a criminal defence lawyer says is inadequate and will further undermine public trust in the police force.

Police Chief Dale McFee ordered an internal investigation into the actions of Const. Mike Roblin and the other officers in early June, immediately after CBC News reported on the photo posted to the constable’s Instagram account.

In the photo, Roblin and another officer pose with the arrested man, whose face is blacked out. 

A caption under the photo stated: “This fine young man was so thrilled with the service we provided him that he wanted to commemorate the moment with a picture.

“Just kidding, he was so high he thought he was on Mars.”

A substance abuse expert called the photo “repulsive” and said it could frustrate efforts to get those struggling with addiction to seek help.

In a statement Monday, an EPS spokesperson said McFee accepted the recommendations from the internal investigation, which “called on the three members to fulfil various internal and external training and professional development expectations.”

“The three members recently satisfied these requirements by concluding additional training, including courses focusing on ethics and accountability, bias awareness and risk effective decision making, among others,” Scott Pattison said.

The police statement also said it could not find the man in the photo so it could apologize to him.

EPS Const. Mike Roblin posted this photo to his Instagram account on May 9. He subsequently deleted it, but a citizen captured the image and filed a complaint with the police service. (Mike_Roblin/Instagram)

Edmonton lawyer Tom Engel chairs the policing committee of the province’s Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association. He said the discipline for the officers should have been more severe.

“You don’t use this kind of alternate training, restorative training, for serious misconduct,” Engel said.

“And what it is doing is minimizing to the public the seriousness of the misconduct.”

Roblin posted the photo on May 9. He deleted it but a citizen captured it and complained to the service’s professional standards branch on May 11, before filing a formal complaint on May 12.

The police service initially said it was dealing with the matter informally. But on the same day CBC News reported about the photo, EPS said McFee had ordered a professional standards branch investigation. It declined to identify other officers under investigation, saying it is the force’s policy not to do so unless they are charged.

Transparency lacking

Engel supported the decision to launch an internal investigation. Without that formal process, he said, there would be no transparency about what if any discipline was meted out to the officers.

But there has been little transparency — and several conflicting statements — from EPS and McFee on the matter in the months following.

On Sept. 1, EPS told CBC News the internal investigation had concluded and was awaiting a disciplinary decision from Chief Dale McFee. The police service repeatedly said it had nothing more to disclose on the matter as recently as Oct. 19. (Richard Marion/CBC)

On Sept. 1, an EPS spokesperson said the internal investigation had recently concluded and the matter was before McFee for a disciplinary decision. The chief confirmed this to another CBC News reporter that same day, and said to check back with him in a few days.

The police service repeatedly said there was nothing to disclose when CBC News followed up, including as recently as Oct. 19.

Monday’s EPS statement, however, stated the investigation concluded in mid-September and the officers have already finished the remedial training. 

“If you have to train somebody about why this is bad and train them so they don’t do it again, you’re training somebody who shouldn’t be a police officer in the first place,” Engel said. “You are not going to train that sort of attitude out of those officers.”

Officer has serious disciplinary record

Engel said McFee clearly didn’t consider Roblin’s serious disciplinary record.

A judge found him guilty of assault causing bodily harm for a 2015 incident in which he punched a fellow EPS member, who suffered a serious concussion, at a wedding party.

The judge granted Roblin a conditional discharge, but he later pleaded guilty to discreditable conduct at an internal disciplinary hearing on Jan. 31, 2017. 

Roblin is also one of several officers now being investigated by the professional standards branch for conducting a search without a warrant of the property of a well-known inner-city slum landlord and convicted drug dealer. 

In 2019, the Law Enforcement Review Board ordered the police to re-investigate after it found the original investigation was substandard.

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