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Summerland cops brought into neighbour feud to get 'operational guidance'

FILE PHOTO - Summerland brothers Bradley and Darren Besler.

Two brothers who called the police about a feud with neighbours were told to “go have a drink” by the Summerland RCMP officer who attended.

That was one many complaints lodged against RCMP officers who spent months investigating the feud, according to a Civilian Review and Complaints Commissioner report issued May 20.

The fight flared up during the summer of 2019, when brothers Brad and Darren Besler were protesting their neighbours for building a mushroom farm, which they claimed was stinky and built without proper permits.

Police responded to the next door neighbours’ properties on Garnet Valley Road numerous times over the summer. Only the Besler brothers were charged – both with criminal harassment, and then later mischief. Brad successfully fought the charges. Darren was found not guilty of mischief but is still fighting the harassment charge.

READ MORE: Summerland brothers successfully appeal mischief charges in mushroom farm fight

The brothers didn’t feel as though police conducted a fair investigation so they submitted nine allegations of misconduct to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commissioner.

In her final report on the investigation, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki took issue with some of the officers’ conduct though she did not agree with all nine allegations.

One allegation was that police should have taken enforcement action after learning about the neighbour’s firearm and his alleged willingness to use it. 

The Beslers’ neighbour told two officers that he sleeps with a gun beside his bed. He said he was not sleeping well as a result of being fearful of his safety and considered the Beslers to be unpredictable. He told one officer he was prepared to go to jail to protect his property and employees, and told another cop that he would not hesitate to defend himself.

The Commissioner sided with the police on that issue.

“The neighbour would be entitled to use reasonable force to remove an unwanted trespasser,” the report said, with the word reasonable underlined.

READ MORE: Summerland brothers found guilty of mischief in dispute with mushroom-farming neighbour

The Beslers also alleged officers failed to take a statement from them during an incident in June 2019, which they said was a demonstration of bias against them.

But the Beslers were considered suspects in an investigation at the time, and although “a thorough investigation often includes an attempt to interview the suspect... neglecting to obtain a statement from a witness is within an officer’s discretion," the report said.

During one interaction with police, Const. Luc Rioux displayed an unprofessional attitude by telling the brothers to “go have a drink,” according to another allegation.

The RCMP, which conducted its own investigation into the allegations, said the officer chose “unfortunate language” but his intention was not to encourage substance abuse.

"He simply proposed that the Beslers take a break to calm themselves to prevent the situation from escalating," the report said.

Const. Rioux said he and another officer had a “long, drawn out and frustrating conversation with Brad and Darren Besler at the end of which (Rioux) told Brad and Darren to relax and go have a drink,” adding that he never specified anything alcoholic.

Commissioner Lucki didn't agree that Const. Rioux’s comment displayed an improper attitude towards the brothers. However, she said it was “certainly not ideal and could be interpreted as a suggestion to consume alcohol.”

The Commissioner is confident that Const. Rioux will be alerted to the concern over his choice of words.

READ MORE: RCMP commissioner breached duty with slow response to watchdog report, judge rules

The Commission sided with the Beslers on a few issues, mostly involving note-taking and paperwork. 

One officer’s report was not submitted to the Crown prosecutor until 14 months after the brothers were charged with mischief, and only after the ruling judge ordered the report to be disclosed.

Therefore, Rioux did not disclose relevant information in a “fulsome and timely manner,” the report said.

The Commission recommended Const. Rioux receive operational guidance and/or training on police disclosure obligations and on the importance of fulfilling such obligations in a thorough and timely manner.

The officer also did not take a complaint seriously after the Beslers complained of vandalism.

The brothers claimed their neighbour spray painted the words “She breed depravity” on their truck.

“(The neighbours) said you guys did that,” Rioux told the Beslers, according to the report.

“I could not rule out that they wouldn’t do that to their own broken down truck in order to frame the neighbours, just the same that I could not rule out (the neighbours) either, there was no evidence pointing either way,” Rioux told the RCMP’s public complaint investigator in a written statement.

READ MORE: Thompson Okanagan readers weigh in on RCMP body cameras

The Commission found the complaint of vandalism was investigated properly, however there were no notes taken by Const. Rioux or Cpl. Christopher Richardson during some encounters. Cpl. Richardson referenced one discussion in court despite not having no record of it.

“RCMP policy requires RCMP members to make written and/or electronic notes, as soon as practicable,” the Commission’s report said.

Since the police lacked documentation into the initial investigation into vandalism, “information was barely sufficient for the Commission to reach conclusions about the allegation,” the report said.

Although the Beslers' complaint was not related to note taking, the Commission found Cpl. Richardson and Const. Rioux “did not follow the RCMP’s policy regarding note taking and recommends that they receive operational guidance on the importance of note taking.”

As a result of the investigation, the Commission has recommended that Cpl. Richardson and Const. Rioux get extra training on their disclosure obligations and note taking.

But while some officers did not submit enough documentation for the Commissioner's liking, the Beslers submitted too much, she said.

Commissioner Lucki was unable to consider all of the brothers’ documents because they submitted more than 1,000 pages. She said expecting the Commission to read all that “would have a paralyzing effect on the proper functioning of administrative bodies and would needlessly compromise important values such as efficiency and access to justice.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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