Ex-BC constable engaged in dishonorable conduct during homicide investigation: OPCC report
A B.C. police officer who was barred from contacting a witness in a homicide investigation, but allegedly wrote him a letter anyway, has now been convicted of dishonorable conduct, according to the Office of the Complaints Commissioner against the British Columbia police.
A retired judge has now been appointed to review Brian Gateley’s case, after the Police Complaints Commissioner concluded that a one-day unpaid suspension ‘is not proportionate to the seriousness of the misconduct ».
The case stems from the case of Arlene Westervelt, who died while canoeing with her husband Bert Westervelt on Okanagan Lake in 2016.
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Gateley, the officer in question, knew Bert and allegedly had Arlene’s cell phone hacked at his request using RCMP resources.
Bert was later charged with the second degree murder of Arlene in 2019, although that charge was later stayed. He has always maintained his innocence.
Eventually, Gateley’s actions would be investigated internally by the RCMP. Global News has obtained a copy of the letter of conduct alleging Gateley unlocked Arlene’s phone using a tool called « Cellebrite » for « personal or unauthorized reasons ».
He was also accused of providing his personal opinion to investigators in a potential conflict of interest.
Gateley has previously denied any wrongdoing.
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In the letter he allegedly sent to Arlene’s sister, Debbie Hennig, Gateley admitted to hacking into the phone, but said he only did so after being assured by investigators that the death of ‘Arlene was being treated as an accident.
In response to a civil lawsuit filed by Arlene’s family, the government said that on February 1, 2019, the RCMP convicted Gateley of participating in a potential conflict of interest and misusing the RCMP computer equipment.
A month later, Gateley retired from the RCMP, according to his civil court documents. He also noted that there was a “perception of a conflict of interest; no actual or potential conflict of interest has been identified,” in its response to the civil claim.
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The former constable then got a job with the Combined Forces Special Law Enforcement Unit (CFSEU), also known as the BC Anti-Gang Agency. He worked in the Organized Crime Agency.
According to the OPCC filing, Gateley’s supervisors met with him in December 2020 and warned him not to have contact with witnesses in the investigation into Arlene’s death.
Gateley allegedly wrote the letter explaining his side of the story to Arlene’s sister two months later.
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The Vancouver Police Department was appointed to investigate Gateley’s actions.
He concluded that Gateley engaged in dishonorable conduct when he « communicated with a witness in a homicide investigation in violation of direct orders from senior officers and supervisors, » according to the OPCC report.
« The Conduct Authority noted that Sgt. Gateley was a 34-year-old police veteran, having previously been employed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and had ‘downplayed his role’ in the alleged misconduct by repeatedly claiming that he had never disobeyed the instructions given to him,” the OPCC report stated.
After the Vancouver Police Department suggested a one-day suspension, the Police Complaints Commissioner wrote: « The low level of discipline and corrective action proposed by the Conduct Authority is not commensurate with the seriousness of misconduct in all the circumstances, including the planned measures and premeditated decision to ignore the instructions of his superiors in the context of his experience and the serious circumstances of the case”.
The OPCC report also claimed that Gateley accepted the facts and findings of the conduct authority.
Retired Provincial Court Judge James Threlfall has been appointed arbitrator in the upcoming proceedings.
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Meanwhile, there are also questions about why Gateley was hired at UMECO after his alleged misconduct with the RCMP.
Gateley’s letter of conduct was signed by Asst. Com. Kevin Hackett, who was also the head of the British Columbia Organized Crime Agency at the time. This is where Gateley landed his next job.
According to a report to the Organized Crime Agency’s board of directors, there was a subsequent complaint about the adequacy of its vetting process.
The report says that a thorough review revealed that the selection committee followed the policies of the Organized Crime Agency.
“The selection committee consisted of a hiring manager, a supervisor, and a human resources representative, as specified in the policy, none of whom were on the governance board,” the report said.
« The selection committee members were unaware that the officer had unresolved code of conduct allegations. »
The report also noted that the organized crime agency has since changed its hiring policies and now requires reference checks for both internal and external applicants. He said that in this case, no reference checks were performed on Gateley.
« In response to the investigation of this complaint, the Organized Crime Agency of BC (OCABC) is also adopting the practice of requiring applicants for OCABC employment to sign a waiver to consent to the disclosure of their personal information, including their service disciplinary record and ongoing code of conduct or complaints or grievances under the Police Act,” the report said.
Gateley has not yet responded to a request for comment.
–With files by Brennan Leffler
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