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Demotion ordered for Edmonton police officer who assaulted homeless man

An Edmonton police constable who assaulted a homeless man and then drove him into the river valley and left him there has been professionally penalized with a demotion.

During a disciplinary hearing Monday, Const. Matthew O’Mara was demoted from a five-year constable to a three-year constable, for a period of two years during which he isn’t allowed to be promoted or act in a more senior role.

O’Mara’s demotion is a penalty for a Dec. 11, 2017, assault on a man who he removed from a 7-Eleven on Jasper Avenue. O’Mara punched the man in the head repeatedly, and then drove him into the river valley — far from shelters or a hospital — even though the man was bleeding from his head.

In November 2020, Justice D’Arcy DePoe from the Court of Justice found O’Mara guilty of assault, and sentenced him to 18 months of probation. 

Disciplinary hearings by Edmonton Police Service aren’t held until after any related criminal matters have concluded. 

The demotion ordered Monday will come into effect when and if O’Mara returns to work. He has been on Workers Compensation Board disability leave since 2020.

The disciplinary hearing lasted several minutes. Presiding officer Fred Kamins declined to hear a summary of the joint submissions made by O’Mara’s defence lawyer Mike Danyliuk and presenting officer Derek Crana. 

Crana, who represents Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee in the hearing, acts in a similar role to a prosecutor during a criminal trial.

Kamins said everything he needed was covered in written materials filed as part of the hearing, and that he was satisfied that there was little public interest in pursuing any other penalty for O’Mara beyond the demotion period of two years.  

“I will let the sanction as suggested stand,” Kamins said. 

CBC requested a copy of the agreed statement of facts, but a hearing office staff member said no exhibits or written materials related to disciplinary proceedings are publicly available, and that the only avenue for accessing them is through a freedom of information request.

Criminal conviction 

In 2019, DePoe found O’Mara guilty of having used excessive force when he violently took the man to the ground and then punched him twice in the head, so hard that the man’s head bounced off the sidewalk.

“The force used here on a prone, injured, physically subdued, intoxicated homeless man was not proportionate, necessary or reasonable,” DePoe ruled.

O’Mara and his partner encountered the man at a 7-Eleven store on Jasper Avenue where they were called to remove him as he was sleeping in the store. O’Mara has issued the man tickets for public intoxication and trespassing outside the store, which is where the assault happened.

DePoe found that it was an aggravating factor that after the assault, O’Mara and his partner drove the man down into the river valley and left him there, far from any shelters or assistance on a cold December night. 

During the trial, court also heard that Crown prosecutors believed O’Mara intentionally turned off his patrol vehicle’s GPS once he had the man in the back of the vehicle, but DePoe found that no evidence or argument was offered on this point.

During the sentencing hearing, O’Mara’s defence lawyer argued that he should get a conditional discharge – which would allow O’Mara to avoid a criminal record — because having a criminal conviction could lead to him losing employment as a police officer.

DePoe did accept a psychological report that found O’Mara was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociation because of his background as a military police officer and then his work with EPS, and accepted that his mental state at the time of the offence contributed to his disproportionate use of force.

But DePoe still found that a criminal conviction was necessary and opted to sentence O’Mara to probation. 

At the time, DePoe said it was, in part, because O’Mara expressed very little remorse for the assault, and because the officer was found to have lied several times while giving evidence in his own defence. 

Crana did not seek dismissal during the disciplinary hearing Monday, and the reasons for the joint submission for a demotion as a penalty were not made publicly available.

Omar’s partner is also facing disciplinary allegations. An update on that case is expected in February.

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