Assault victims lash out at plea deal for Ottawa police officer

Two women who were assaulted by Ottawa Police Const. Eric Post say a plea deal brokered by the Crown diminishes the violence and fear the officer inflicted upon them.

On Jan. 15, Post pleaded guilty to five charges related to violence against several women over the course of five years. They were women he was linked to romantically or knew personally. He initially faced 32 charges — the highest number ever for an officer in the Ottawa Police Service.

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With the plea deal, 27 alleged offences ranging from sexual assault and criminal harassment to unlawful confinement were dropped.

The women told CBC’s The Fifth Estate the justice system has “silenced” them while safeguarding a “dangerous” police officer. 

“I was disappointed and heartbroken. I trusted in our system. I was hoping for justice,” said Leah, a kindergarten teacher. “I felt my case was watered down and not presented in the way it needed to be.” 

CBC is using pseudonyms for the women because their identities are protected by a court-ordered publication ban. They told The Fifth Estate they wanted to testify to hold the constable accountable, but after months of preparation, they were told one week before the trial that Post was being offered a plea deal instead.

Leah holds a stack of complaints she filed against Post, her ex-boyfriend. Leah, a school teacher, says the Crown’s plea deal for Post deal ‘watered down’ the abuse she endured. (Pierre-Paul Couture/CBC)

Post is awaiting sentencing in April, after being convicted of four counts of assault and one count of uttering threats related to four victims.

The agreement between the Crown and defence did not require the Ottawa officer to enter guilty pleas connected to the claims of three other women, one of whom died by suicide last September. 

Before her death, Post was charged with two counts of sexual assault and one count of pointing a firearm at the woman in December 2017. 

As previously reported by The Fifth EstatePost is one of eight Ottawa police officers suspended with pay for alleged incidents of violence and misconduct related to women that occurred on and off duty.

Broken trust

Leah was the first of the women to file a complaint against Post. She dated him off and on for three years. When she logged on to the courthouse Zoom link on Jan. 14 to watch the plea hearing, she said disappointment set in as soon as the regional Crown attorney began reading the agreed statement of facts.

The statement characterized Post as “controlling … critical .. and childish.” Leah said the adjectives do not adequately describe the trauma she experienced, and accuses the Crown of providing a “sanitized” account of Post’s two decades of policing. 

Reading from the statement, the Crown said: “[Post] has never been formally disciplined or found guilty of any misconduct under the Police Services Act. He has no criminal record.” 

Leah reported Post to Ottawa police multiple times.

At the January plea hearing, the Crown acknowledged Leah’s formal complaints, but left out the fact that police responded to several 911 calls involving altercations between the couple.

She met with an investigator from the force’s professional standards unit, as well as a criminal investigator at the time. In both cases, Leah was told there wasn’t sufficient evidence to lay charges. Leah said the detectives chalked up the incidents to Post being a ‘big, high-energy guy” and dismissed her concerns.

“I told [investigators] he was not stable, that he shouldn’t be carrying a gun, that he was going to hurt someone … but they silenced me,” said Leah, who filed official complaints against Post in the summer of 2017. 

A history of violence

It was only a few months after Leah and Post met in 2013, on the dating website called Plenty of Fish, that Leah’s neighbours called Gatineau police after hearing the couple fight in her apartment.

“They could hear him screaming at me. He was so loud [the neighbours] were scared for my safety.” 

On multiple occasions, Leah said, Post would block her from leaving her home by grabbing her wrists and arms. He often threw objects such as books and keys at her, sometimes leaving her with bruises.

She moved across the river from Gatineau to Ottawa after she and Post decided to buy a condo together. In 2014, Leah called police herself after Post barred her from leaving their home. She said he would pound on the hood of her car and in one incident grabbed the front bumper, lifting the vehicle off the ground to stop her from driving away. 

Leah said her former boyfriend’s temper was so volatile that strangers were compelled to intervene. 

In March 2014, they went to Mexico together. At the airport, Post yelled at her for trying on expensive sunglasses. The statement of facts acknowledged that Post caused her “much shame and humiliation.”  

WATCH: Assault victim describes loss of faith in justice system:

Ottawa Police Const. Eric Post pleaded guilty to one count of assault against this kindergarten teacher. She says Post’s plea deal diminishes the violence she endured in their relationship. 0:24

What happened next wasn’t put on the record. However, the details are contained in the complaint she made to police.

After the incident, a woman Leah didn’t know followed her into the washroom and slipped her a piece of paper. It was a letter that read: “No one should treat you like that. What I witnessed in the airport was frightening. You are loved.” The stranger also wrote down her name and phone number should Leah need help.

In 2015, bystanders in a Walmart parking lot called 911 after witnessing Post scream and grab Leah’s arms forcefully while she was loading groceries into her car. 

Leah said he “went from zero to 100” in seconds over a disagreement about what to make for dinner. 

When Ottawa police officers showed up at Walmart, Post was able to convince his patrol colleagues that people had overreacted. 

After Leah broke off their relationship and moved out in 2016, she said Post continued to harass her. 

Showed up unannounced

He would show up unannounced at the elementary school where she worked in downtown Ottawa and walk into her classroom in uniform. 

The statement of facts describes how Post arrived with flowers in hand to “win her back” but doesn’t detail the threats she said he made. Leah said he threatened to shoot her and to burn down her new home. When she called police for help, a detective told her to draft a safety plan and dial 911 if he appeared on school property. 

She showed CBC a document with Post’s photo and instructions warning staff not to let him in. The picture of Post was taped by the front door of the school office. To this day, Leah said, she won’t go outside at recess to supervise students because she fears being a target.

This is a person who had the authority and the weaponry to do great harm to women … this will affect public perception of prosecutorial processes.Elizabeth Sheehy

“I believe Ottawa police really protected their own. I get that and I understand, but they do have a position to serve and protect society,” said Leah. “They made excuses for him.”

In court, Post pleaded guilty to one count of assaulting Leah for grabbing her wrists and throwing keys at her. 

Other charges — unlawful confinement, criminal harassment and breach of trust — previously attached to Leah’s case were dropped.

Post’s lawyers, Michael Edelson and Tony Paciocco, declined to respond to Leah’s allegations while their client is awaiting sentencing but said: “We intend to comment on behalf of Mr. Post at the earliest opportunity after the sentencing hearing.”

Another complaint dismissed

The case against Post might not have made it to court if it weren’t for the persistence of another victim. 

Jane, a federal government worker in her early 30s, met Post on the Bumble dating site in January 2018. After reading his profile, she thought the officer would be a safe date. 

Instead, she said, Post turned out to be a “monster.” 

The Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin Street. As of February 2020, there are eight Ottawa police officers suspended with pay for alleged violence and misconduct related to women. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

There were initially eight charges associated with Jane’s case, but Post pleaded guilty to two, including one count of assault and one count of uttering threats. 

In court, Post admitted to threatening to throw her off a bridge if she cheated on him, and to grabbing her throat and slapping her. 

Jane said the two convictions don’t fully reflect her fear of him, and she now has recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks.

“When I saw him [virtually] in court, there was a lack of empathy, a lack of remorse…. I think he’s still capable of being a dangerous man,” said Jane, who has  moved to a different neighborhood because she didn’t want Post to know where she lived.

She dated Post for five months. During that period, she said, Post threatened her multiple times and told her he would get away with it “because he was a police officer.”

Watch: Victim angered by Crown’s plea deal for ‘dangerous’ Ottawa police officer:

In a deal with the Crown, Post pleaded guilty to two of eight offences related to this federal public servant he dated in 2018. 1:02

He threatened to snap her neck and gouge out her eyeballs and kill her family, she said. He took out his Taser and turned it on underneath her chin. In the statement of fact, Post acknowledged that was a “misuse of police equipment” and “poor judgment.”

On May 12, 2018, Jane reported the abuse. At around 10 p.m., with a friend at her side, she made her way to Ottawa’s Elgin Street police headquarters. 

Jane said she felt vulnerable, worried that Post could walk into the station at any time. She waited more than two hours before she was able to speak to a detective. 

One month later, she said she received a call from an inspector who informed her there would be no charge against Post because “officers were human beings and they make mistakes.”

“When he said that … I kind of just felt like the wind was taken out of me because what was the point of me risking my life and coming forward and telling them about this?” said Jane.

Jane’s identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban. She wrote a letter in 2018 to the Ottawa police chief demanding her case be reopened after investigators dismissed her complaint against Post. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Fighting for accountability

Jane refused to accept the dismissal of her complaint and wrote a letter to Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau in June 2018, a few days after her phone call with the inspector. She pleaded with the chief to reopen her file.

In the email to Bordeleau that she shared with the CBC, Jane wrote how the sight of any police officer triggered panic attacks. She expressed dismay that a senior officer would actively discourage vulnerable victims from coming forward.

In August 2018, Bordeleau referred the case to the Special Investigations Unit. The provincial police watchdog investigates cases of serious injury or alleged sexual assault by sworn officers. The SIU sent the case back to Ottawa police to investigate. 

One month later, Post was arrested and charged. In October 2018, Jane filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) to report the officers who initially handled her file. She wants them disciplined and retrained.

In an email statement, Ottawa Police say a full review of the Post matter is underway.

The police service said it takes the issues of violence against women, workplace harassment and gender equity “very seriously” and is working with members and community partners to make needed changes and improvements to response.

In addition to this, on Monday, at the monthly Ottawa Police Service board meeting, chair Diane Deans said police need to “work with the justice system to ensure penalties, not plea bargains are imposed.”

‘I feel revictimized’

After fighting so hard for an investigation, Jane said she’s devastated that the Crown agreed to reduced charges for Post.

“I feel like the Ottawa Police Service failed me. And I feel like the Crown attorneys failed me. I worked so hard to make sure my voice was heard and I worked so hard in making sure they had  all the resources to show I was credible and for it to go to court and he only pleads to five out of 32 [charges], it’s insulting in many ways. I feel revictimized. There is no justice served here.” 

Erin Leigh, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, says police and the courts too often dismiss domestic violence as ‘lovers’ quarrels.’ (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

In April, Leah and Jane will return to court to give their victim impact statements. Then Post will be sentenced. In plea deals, it’s common for both the defence and Crown to submit a joint recommendation for sentencing, which judges typically accept.

Elizabeth Sheehy, a professor emeritus of common law at the University of Ottawa, has spent her life’s work studying legal responses to violence against women. 

‘Deeply disturbing’ case

She said the Post case is “deeply disturbing” because it involves a police officer to whom women are supposed to report sexual assault and domestic abuse.

Sheehy is also troubled by how the Crown handled the case.

“This is a person who had the authority and the weaponry to do great harm to women…. Why was the Crown willing to accept five guilty pleas when there is an extensive pattern of abusive behaviour? The Crown should be publicly explaining that,” said Sheehy. “This will affect public perception of prosecutorial processes.”

The Crown responded in a one-line email through a spokesperson with the Ministry of the Attorney General: “As the matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment.”

Erin Leigh, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, said too often domestic violence is dismissed as a “lovers’ quarrel.”

WATCH: Women’s advocate says domestic violence often dismissed as ‘lover’s quarrel’ by police and courts:

Erin Leigh of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women says the case of Const. Eric Post reveals how misogynistic attitudes impact investigations. 1:00

She said the Post case is another example of the “old boys toxic masculinity” in policing.

“Holding the thin blue line is problematic. The women felt dismissed, but the underlying belly of what they experienced is police saying, ‘I’m going to protect my buddy,’ ” said Leigh, who lauds Jane for continuing her fight to hold officers accountable for their actions.

Including Post, there are eight Ottawa police officers facing allegations of violence or misconduct related to women. Five have been charged criminally, while three face Police Services Act charges. All are suspended with pay. 

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