PHOTO: RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Manitoba’s police watchdog had charged Patrol Sgt. Sean Cassidy with fraud, obstruction of justice and unauthorized access to a police computer system.
A Winnipeg police officer has been acquitted of logging into a police database to fix his own speeding ticket, despite the judge acknowledging his defence was “almost implausible.”
Patrol Sgt. Sean Cassidy, dressed in a suit and seated in the front row of the court gallery beside a supporter, showed no visible emotion as provincial court Judge Cindy Sholdice signalled her verdict in the opening minutes of her 30-minute decision Thursday.
Cassidy was tried on a charge of unauthorized use of a computer, fraud and obstruction of justice.
Cassidy had testified he was conducting an “integrity check” when he entered his own licence plate number into the Winnipeg Police Service’s photo radar database on Oct. 1, 2019.
“While his explanation… is highly suspicious, convenient and almost implausible… when considering his evidence in the context of all the evidence I am left in doubt of his guilt,” Sholdice said.
“While his explanation… is highly suspicious, convenient and almost implausible… when considering his evidence in the context of all the evidence I am left in doubt of his guilt.”– Judge Cindy Sholdice
Court heard evidence Cassidy was driving his personal vehicle following a breakfast meeting with co-workers when he was caught by a photo radar camera speeding in a school zone. Cassidy drove up to the radar vehicle and talked to the operator, who confirmed he would receive a ticket.
Cassidy, who at that time was assigned to the photo radar unit, testified that when he returned to work that morning he received an email with the licence plate numbers of four vehicles to be added to a database of vehicles exempt from photo radar and red light camera enforcement.
Cassidy testified when he added the four licence plate numbers to the database, one of them did not appear, causing him to be concerned. Cassidy said he wanted to “test the integrity of the system” and submitted his own plate number several times to see if it would show up.
When another officer in the unit asked Cassidy about a report an officer had approached a photo radar operator that morning, Cassidy readily admitted it was him, defence lawyer Lisa LaBossiere told court in a closing argument last November, noting Cassidy continued to try to enter his plate number into the database two more times that day.
“It makes no sense whatsoever that after being caught, he would go into the software with the intention of zapping his ticket,” LaBossiere said. “That is just not consistent with an individual who has just been confronted about doing something bad.”
Cassidy testified he had little training in the database software and was fumbling through trial and error to figure out the problem.
“It is plausible that a police officer for 24 years and a sergeant since 2014 responsible for investigating, identifying, and solving issues would attempt to figure out something on his own before seeking assistance,” Sholdice said.
Wednesday’s acquittal doesn’t end Cassidy’s legal woes. In a separate case, a judge is scheduled to rule later this month whether Cassidy is guilty of assaulting a man following a prolonged highway chase from La Salle to Winnipeg in March 2017.
Cassidy is accused of punching Jamie Cote in the head during what was described in court as a “high-risk” traffic stop.
Cote testified at trial he and a roommate were in La Salle to deliver flyers for Cote’s landscaping business when a van started following them from house to house and ultimately followed him to Winnipeg, where Cassidy pulled him from his truck and allegedly assaulted him.
“It makes no sense whatsoever that after being caught, he would go into the software with the intention of zapping his ticket.”– Lisa LaBossiere, defence lawyer
Cassidy, who testified he suspected Cote might have been involved in a rash of break-and-enters in the area, told court he thought he saw a weapon in Cote’s hand when he pulled him from his vehicle.
In 2019, Cassidy was charged with unsafe storage of a firearm, a charge which was later stayed, and possession of a restricted weapon at an unauthorized place.
Cassidy pleaded guilty to the second charge in 2020 and received an absolute discharge.