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Suspended Victoria police chief resigns, hearings go on

Suspended Victoria police chief Frank Elsner has resigned, but that won’t halt the disciplinary hearings he is facing for six allegations of misconduct. The Victoria Police Board announced the resignation on Thursday.
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Suspended Victoria police chief Frank Elsner was facing disciplinary hearings on six allegations of misconduct.

Suspended Victoria police chief Frank Elsner has resigned, but that won’t halt the disciplinary hearings he is facing for six allegations of misconduct.

The Victoria Police Board announced the resignation on Thursday.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said Elsner’s lawyer sent the police board’s lawyer a letter a few days ago stating that Elsner no longer considers himself an employee of the police board. This is based on Elsner’s view that the police board hasn’t adequately covered his legal fees, Helps said.

The saga began in 2015 when allegations surfaced that Elsner had sent inappropriate Twitter messages to the wife of a subordinate officer.

“Through his counsel, Mr. Elsner has advised that he considers his employment relationship with the police board to be at an end,” the police board said in a statement. “The police board has concluded from this advice that Mr. Elsner has resigned from his position as Chief Constable of the Victoria Police Department.”

This means that effective immediately, Elsner will no longer receive his salary of $205,000 a year, or benefits.

Elsner’s lawyer, Janet Winteringham, said in an email: “We confirm that Frank Elsner has elected to end his employment with Victoria Police Board. He believes it is in the best interests of the community of Victoria for him to step aside.”

Elsner has been suspended with pay since April 2016 and Deputy Chief Del Manak has been serving as interim chief.

The police board said it will now begin the process of selecting the next chief.

The board had been paying for some of Elsner’s legal fees relating to a misconduct investigation.

But Elsner also launched separate legal proceedings, arguing that the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner did not have the jurisdiction to investigate the misconduct allegations.

That was partially successful, as in April the B.C. Supreme Court threw out an investigation into Twitter messages that Elsner is alleged to have sent, along with allegations that Elsner used Victoria Police Department equipment to send the messages while on duty.

It’s unclear how the dispute over legal fees will play out.

In February, Elsner filed an affidavit in B.C. Supreme Court saying he wanted to resign so he could move on with his life but was prevented from doing so as long as the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner investigation was still active.

Winteringham said Thursday that due to “ongoing proceedings” Elsner cannot comment.

Helps said she could not provide a figure for how much taxpayer money has been spent on the Elsner case, but she said that sum will eventually be made public.

“The board needs to meet to determine the process for selecting a new chief to try and create some sense of stability and certainty in the department,” Helps said.

Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, the co-chairs of the police board, received information in August 2015 that Elsner had exchanged Twitter messages with a Saanich police officer who was the wife of one of Elsner’s officers.

The case proceeded as an internal discipline matter. An independent investigator concluded it was inappropriate for Elsner to have sent the Twitter messages on Victoria police equipment during work hours and that Elsner’s conduct was discreditable. A letter of reprimand was placed on his file.

Elsner publicly apologized for sending the lewd Twitter messages and said he was “deeply humiliated.”

On Dec. 4, 2015, Helps and Desjardins told the board that Elsner had been disciplined following an internal investigation, and the board expressed confidence in the police chief.

However, police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe reviewed the internal investigation and determined it failed the test of fairness, accountability and transparency under the Police Act, sparking a legal battle between the police board and the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

In April, Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said it was an abuse of process for Lowe to order an external investigation into matters that had already been investigated by the Victoria police board.

The OPCC is appealing that decision, saying it is important to protect the police complaint commissioner’s ability to review internal investigations, said deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods.

The ruling upheld the police complaint commissioner’s authority to investigate allegations that Elsner provided misleading information to the subordinate officer and an independent investigator, and that he attempted to procure a false statement from a witness. A disciplinary hearing on these matters was delayed after Elsner asked for more information.

A separate disciplinary hearing, which started in April but is not open to the public, is dealing with allegations of workplace harassment, submitted by the police union on behalf of four female employees of the police department.

Both hearings will go forward despite Elsner’s resignation, since the Police Act states that an officer’s resignation does not halt the disciplinary process.

Any discipline is put on the officer’s service record and is available to other police departments to look at if the officer were to apply for another job.

“It allows members to be held to account even after they’ve resigned,” Woods said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— With files from Louise Dickson

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How Elsner case unfolded

August 2015 — Concerns were raised quietly about Twitter messages between Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner and a female Saanich officer who is married to one of his Victoria police subordinates. Victoria and Esquimalt mayors Lisa Helps and Barb Desjardins, police board co-chairs, confidentially hired a lawyer to investigate. The lawyer concluded later in the year there was no physical relationship, but the messages were inappropriate.

Dec. 4, 2015 — The mayors informed the police board privately and the board expressed confidence in the chief.

Dec. 7, 2015 — The Vancouver Sun reported on the text messages and Elsner publicly acknowledged them, saying he was humiliated. He emailed his entire department an apology. Some police officers raised concerns about harassment and bullying of staff.

Dec. 18, 2015 — The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner relieved the mayors of their disciplinary authority, and started a new investigation of the text messages, saying the first investigation was inadequate. Elsner went on paid leave. The OPCC also started a probe of the harassment allegations.

March 15, 2016 — Elsner filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court to stop the investigations.

April 29, 2016 — Elsner was suspended with pay. Three more allegations were made against him. They are: that Elsner tried to procure a statement from a potential witness knowing it to be false or misleading, that he requested that a potential witness destroy electronic data and that he tried to access a department server to erase or try to erase emails.

November 2016 — Elsner’s petition to quash the OPCC investigation is heard over four days in B.C. Supreme Court, with evidence coming out that Elsner and the female officer spent six months exchanging “salacious and sexually charged” Twitter messages and shared a hug and a kiss.

January 2017 — Investigators looking into the misconduct allegations on behalf of the OPCC are given an extension for the fourth time to complete the probe.

Feb. 27, 2017 — Elsner filed an affadavit in B.C. Supreme Court saying he wants to resign as police chief so he can move on with his life but said “for reasons outside of my control, I am unable to negotiate the terms of my exit” until the OPCC investigation is completed.

March 23, 2017 — Police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe said two retired judges found enough evidence against Elsner to send six allegations of discreditable conduct, one allegation of inappropriate use of department equipment and one allegation of deceit to discipline hearings.

March 27, 2017 — The Victoria Police Board announces it is prepared to take the OPCC to court to obtain the investigative reports into the misconduct allegations and a copy of a discipline ruling. The OPCC responded that its office does not have the authority to provide the information.

April 12, 2017 — B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson quashed the investigation into Twitter messages Elsner sent to the wife of one of his subordinates and into the allegations Elsner used Victoria Police Department equipment to send the messages while on duty. Hinkson said it was an abuse of process for police complaint commissioner Stan Lowe to order an external investigation into matters that had already been investigated by the Victoria Police Board.
— compiled by Les Leyne and Katie DeRosa