April 29, 2016 - 1:00 PM
VERNON - The police officer who found Armstrong teen Taylor Van Diest brutally beaten and left for dead Halloween night of 2011 is now suing the RCMP over accusations he was drinking on the job, and that he lied about it in court and to his superiors.
Const. Milan Ilic was the first police officer on scene the night 18-year-old Van Diest was killed by convicted murderer Matthew Foerster.
In a civil lawsuit filed in Kamloops Supreme Court, Ilic says he still suffers post-traumatic stress from that night, made worse by an internal investigation accusing him of drinking on the job and discarding a bottle of alcohol in the bushes before laying his jacket over Van Diest’s body.
The notice of claim describes how Ilic was approached by defence counsel immediately before his March 24, 2014 testimony during Foerster’s murder trial and asked if he had thrown a liquor bottle out of his pocket at the scene — something he denied. In his testimony, Ilic said he never had, nor discarded, a liquor bottle at the scene, but he had a box of pens in his coat pocket which he tossed into a ditch. Ilic was emotional on the witness stand, prompting the judge to allow a brief adjournment for him to collect himself. A different witness testified she saw the police officer at the scene discard a bottle.
The testimony led to an RCMP investigation that Ilic argues went too far.
On March 31, two RCMP officers questioned Ilic about the bottle during a 45 minute interview. Ilic was not read his charter rights, provided any warnings, given a staff relations representative or advised he was in any jeopardy or that he was being personally investigated, states the notice of claim. During the interview, Ilic repeated he had tossed a box of pens into the ditch, to which investigators replied no pens were found at the scene, but there were some found in his jacket. The interview turned to whether Ilic was drinking that night, whether he had a liquor bottle in his possession and whether he discarded a bottle at the scene — all of which he again denied.
On April 21, 2014, Ilic was notified a code of conduct investigation had been ordered into his actions at the crime scene and during his testimony in court. On April 28, Ilic was officially served with a notice alleging on March 24 he conducted himself in a disgraceful manner that could bring discredit to the force by providing false, misleading or inaccurate evidence under oath, and on March 31, he knowingly or willfully made a false, misleading or inaccurate statement to his superiors.
Over the course of the investigation, Ilic was asked to submit to a polygraph test, something he initially agreed to and later declined on the instruction of legal counsel. Twice during the investigation, a liquor bottle found at the scene was analyzed — first by the RCMP lab, and then by a private lab. None of the results provided a DNA profile.
Ilic was suspended from the RCMP on Aug. 21, 2014 on the basis of the allegations. He was ordered to report to the officer in charge at the Vernon detachment once per working day, even though the RCMP knew he lived in Kamloops with his wife and their children. It was later agreed that he could report in person in Kamloops.
Court documents state Ilic, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the night Van Diest was killed, was suffering from deteriorating health throughout the investigation. He was experiencing a great deal of anxiety at having to check in at the detachment daily, referring to it with his psychologist as his “daily walk of shame.”
On June 29, the RCMP’s Conduct Authority Representative Directorate refused a request from the commanding officer of ‘E’ division (B.C. RCMP headquarters) to extend the one year limitation on code of conduct investigations. According to court documents, the directorate stated the evidence available would not support a finding on a balance of probabilities that Ilic lied to the court, or to investigators.
On July 23, Ilic was told his suspension from the RCMP was lifted. Instead of returning to work, Ilic immediately went on sick leave at the recommendation of his psychologist. He remains off duty on sick leave.
The lawsuit alleges the conduct of members of the RCMP undermined the trust for Ilic’s supervisors to treat him fairly and protect his safety in the performance of his duties. The claim also states his reputation was tainted by the investigation, and colleagues at other detachments have heard he was drinking on the job.
“The fact that the process is unresolved has left him without any avenue to prove his innocence leaving a further permanent stain on any further potential career in the RCMP,” the lawsuit states.
In response to the claim, Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, senior media relations officer for the B.C. RCMP issued the following statement:
"We understand that a notice of civil claim has been filed. We will review the claim and the RCMP's official response will be filed in our Statement of Defense and it is likely any other comments will be reserved for the courtroom."
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