01 Jan Ontario police officer quits force after three year suspension that cost taxpayers $400K
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January 4, 2018
Sgt. Robert Mugridge was suspended over fraud charges. Ontario is the only province where officers facing serious charges cannot be suspended without pay
CHATHAM — Paid to do nothing, a senior Chatham-Kent police officer has quit the force after costing taxpayers nearly $400,000 in pay for the more than three years that he was suspended from the job.
The departure of Sgt. Robert Mugridge, announced Wednesday, comes days before the 29-year veteran of the force is to face the sentencing music in court for fraud and is certain to renew calls for Ontario to hurry up legislation ending its distinction as the only province where officers facing serious charges cannot be suspended without pay. It also comes ahead of a disciplinary hearing where Mugridge faced almost certain termination from the Chatham-Kent force.
“It happens all the time, all the time,” John Sewell, a former Toronto mayor and outspoken policing critic, said of officers facing serious allegations being kept on the payroll for years, only to quit before they’re disciplined.
“This is something that, in fact, police associations have used to help their members for many, many years,” Sewell said Wednesday.
Under legislation proposed by Ontario’s Liberal government, police chiefs in the province would be able to withhold wages from officers suspended while they face serious allegations, a power their counterparts in other provinces have long wielded. Pressure to change the law came in the wake of a number of high-profile cases, including that of a Waterloo Regional police constable who sent an email thanking his force “for a dream come true” during a three-year paid suspension he said allowed him to golf, travel and take a firefighter course.
Mugridge pleaded guilty last summer to a single count of defrauding about $247,000 from dozens of people. He’s to be sentenced Tuesday in Chatham.
Chatham-Kent police had sought to fire Mugridge under the Police Services Act, the law governing policing in Ontario and under which police forces hold disciplinary hearings into professional misconduct, after he pleaded guilty to 50 counts of discreditable conduct last year.
Since being suspended in May 2014, Mugridge had continued to collect his $110,000 annual pay.
“It has taken way too long,” West Kent Coun. Bryon Fluker, a member of the Chatham-Kent police services board, said of the drawn-out process.
“I certainly hope that over the next period of time the Police Act gets far more clarified, so that these things don’t take as long as they did.”
The proposed Safer Ontario Act, which was referred to a committee of MPPs for review after second reading in the legislature last month, would allow police chiefs to suspend officers without pay if they’re charged with a serious crime, are in custody or are under bail conditions that interfere with their police duties.
MPP Laurie Scott, the Progressive Conservative critic for community safety, applauded the proposed
legislation for giving police chiefs a power they’ve long requested, but cautioned there’s room for improvement.
“It’s good to see the government take a relatively balanced approach on suspension without pay for police officers who commit serious off-duty crimes
. . . But at the same time, the government fails to define what it considers a serious crime — leaving it open to interpretation. They should be making it crystal clear in the legislation,” Scott wrote in an emailed statement.
It has taken way too long.
Sewell also finds fault with the proposed legislation.
“It just doesn’t go far enough,” said Sewell, who wants Ontario to follow the lead of Calgary, where police chiefs can suspend officers without pay at their discretion.
Mugridge had fraudulently obtained loans from family members, friends, co-workers and others between 2009 and 2014, falsely claiming he needed the money to pay for a child’s university tuition, to repay a loan or replace cash that a substance-addicted sibling had stolen from his mother, court heard. Sometimes, he’d wear his uniform when asking for the loans
At least two of the requests were made at police headquarters in Chatham.
Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope said Mugridge’s retirement allows the force, and the disgraced officer, to move forward.
“(It) mitigates a possible longer process that we would have to go through,” Hope said Wednesday.
But Hope said that not every suspended police officer should go unpaid, noting that each case is unique.
“Every case has its own merits and values,” he said. “Not everybody is guilty.”