VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Inquiry told of maverick cops out for glory instead of focusing on Pickton as a suspect
BY SAM COOPER, THE PROVINCE FEBRUARY 2, 2012
The stories seem to come straight from a seedy TV cop drama.
“Cowboy” drug cops out for glory. Investigators with tunnel vision hiding information from colleagues. Investigations hindered by cops who can’t stand one another.
If true, the stories heard today at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry may explain the lack of direction and professionalism in the VPD’s investigation into Robert Pickton and other suspects.
The inquiry has already heard of an allegedly disruptive pair of investigators who were “super racist.”
Today it heard the two allegedly hid important information about Robert Pickton while focusing on their own favourite suspect, according to the testimony of Det. Const. Lori Shenher.
Shenher testified that Const. Doug Fell and Const. Mark Wolthers had been added to her team of several investigators in 1999 after they approached then-Deputy Chief Const. Brian McGuinness with a suspect.
Shenher said McGuinness was “excited” but her immediate superiors were not happy that he endorsed Fell and Wolthers and pushed them onto the team. Shenher testified she knew their reputation as two tall and brash Downtown Eastside cops who followed their own agenda, allegedly had low regard for sex workers, and didn’t make many arrests despite going off the radar on solo missions without answering dispatch calls.
Shenher said she has learned the two officers canvassed the Downtown Eastside with photos of Pickton that were identified by three women in early 2000, suggesting the prime suspect was active under the VPD’s nose, but allegedly the two didn’t report that back to her. They had focused on their personal suspect, who was now in Alberta, she said.
The perception was they were out for personal glory. Shenher said there were up to 31 missing women on file, but the two officers were not interested in Pickton, so they would only refer to 22 women. That was the number that fit with their timeline for the Alberta suspect, she said.
Shenher said the two made “grave” investigative errors and interfered with the team’s focus. She said two valued investigators left her unit partly because they could not stand working with the two new cops.
As an example of the poisonous atmosphere in the small investigative unit, Shenher noted her “stunned” reaction to a story allegedly put forward by Fell and Walthers.
The two spoke about a drug arrest of a Vietnamese man, Shenher said. They said they went into his closet and took a bag of white flour and dumped it on the man’s head, saying “ now you’re white, what do you think about that?”
Shenher testified there was a meeting with the RCMP in early 2000 about sharing suspect information on the missing women, which was attended by the current RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson. Walthers embarrassed the VPD when he forcefully insisted his Lethbridge suspect made the “hair on the back of my neck stand up” — although he could not tell Paulson any evidence to back up his suspicions.
At the time Paulson was a sergeant from Prince Rupert with knowledge of the “Highway of Tears” cases, Shenher said.
A lawyer for Fell and Walthers challenged Shenher’s perceptions of their “cowboy” reputation and work on the file. Shenher allowed that they were hardworking and energetic.
The two are expected to testify.
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Updated: August 21, 2016