TORONTO - Two Toronto police constables who were recorded mocking a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome last year have learned a "valuable yet shameful lesson," a police prosecutor told a disciplinary hearing Tuesday as the officers pleaded guilty to misconduct.
Const. Sasa Sljivo and Const. Matthew Saris have taken responsibility for their actions and apologized in writing to Francie Munoz and her relatives, Insp. Domenic Sinopoli told a room packed with the family's supporters.
And while the Munoz family had requested a public, in-person apology, "the act of contrition need not be a public spectacle of shame," Sinopoli said.
"No penalty you administer will be greater than the shame they have suffered," he told the officer presiding over the hearing. "I see very little need to make an example of these two officers to deter others from doing the same."
The prosecution and defence jointly proposed that Sljivo, who was the senior officer and the one who made the comments, face five days of unpaid work, and Saris two. Both officers would have to volunteer at least 20 hours with the Special Olympics and undergo an extra hour of sensitivity training.
The hearing officer reserved his decision and no date has been set for its release.
Munoz's mother Pamela, who filed the complaint against the officers, said the family was disappointed but not surprised by the proposed penalty.
"It's the police policing the police," she said.
What's more, she said, the officers had another opportunity to apologize face-to-face but chose not to do so.
Sljivo pleaded guilty to misconduct related to the use of profane, abusive or insulting language, while Saris pleaded guilty to misconduct related to the failure to report Sljivo's comments, which contravened the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Neither officer spoke after entering their pleas Tuesday, opting instead to have their lawyer Gary Clewley apologize on their behalf.
"These gentlemen are genuinely sorry," Clewley said. "This is a regrettable incident. I can tell you it won't happen again."
The charges under the Police Services Act stem from an incident that took place in November of last year, and which the officers have called a "lapse in judgment" in a written apology.
An agreed statement of facts said the comments were made inside a police cruiser after the officers pulled over Pamela Munoz and her two daughters. The statements were captured by the vehicle's dashboard camera and the officers' microphones, which they believed they had turned off, it said.
The Munoz family only learned of the comments because they decided to fight the ticket issued at the time and requested the evidence against them.
Sljivo can be heard describing Francie Munoz as "disfigured" and a "half-person," while Saris is heard laughing and agreeing.
In their interviews with investigators this summer, both officers expressed remorse and embarrassment at their behaviour, the hearing was told.
"There is no doubt this incident has placed our service and our members in a bad light," and led some to lose their trust in police, Sinopoli said.
But he said the officers show potential for rehabilitation, and expressed hope that the Munoz family would recognize that.
"We may have to simply accept that there is no 'why', that it was a momentary lapse in judgment — and we’ve all had those," he said. "Quite frankly I don't know what more these officers could have done to show ... that they are sorry for their actions."
Munoz has also filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, arguing the officers' behaviour amounts to discrimination.
The family's lawyer, Brendon Pooran, said they are focusing their efforts on that process, since the human rights tribunal has the authority to make orders in the public interest.
"It's abundantly clear that the (police) tribunal's not set up to address systemic issues," he said outside the hearing. "There appears to be a tolerance for this type of behaviour within the workforce so we're hoping this can be addressed."