After a Toronto officer admitted he used his police status to obtain the phone number of “an attractive woman” who approached him for help, a prosecutor and the officer’s lawyer agreed he should be penalized with four day’s docked pay at disciplinary tribunal Tuesday.
Const. Vincenzo Bonazza was acquitted last year of one count of sexual assault in a case where the complainant, who later became a police officer in another jurisdiction, alleged she was raped by Bonazza in her home in 2008.
During the trial, Bonazza admitted he had obtained the woman’s phone number using his status as a police officer, after she had sought help from him regarding her ex-boyfriend, who she believed may have been stalking her.
“Listen, I was working and I used my position as a police officer to get a phone number from an attractive woman,” Bonazza told the court last year.
He also admitted that he looked her up in police databases as a kind of background check, contrary to regulations and the Toronto police code of conduct.
His actions “fell far below” public expectations of a police officer with good character, Branton said.
Branton and Bonazza’s lawyer entered a joint submission before the hearing officer, Halton Regional Police Service Supt. Jeff Hill, asking for four days’ docked pay.
The penalty is sufficient to address “clear” misconduct while acknowleding that the officer owned up to the behaviour and pleaded guilty, Branton said.
“He made a mistake over 10 years ago… and he regrets that and he apologizes for that,” said Bonazza’s lawyer, Gary Clewley, adding the officer had a long list of commendations and an otherwise unblemished work record.
“This one-off event that took place more than 10 years ago will remain in the past, where it belongs,” Clewley said.
The complainant, whose identity is covered by a publication ban, testified during the trial last year that she initially thought no one would believe her if she came forward with her account of being raped by a police officer.
She ultimately did come forward in 2015, after becoming a police officer herself, and working on a sexual assault case. The following year, Bonazza was charged with sexual assault by the Special Investigations Unit, Ontario’s police watchdog.
The complainant told the court that the incident began after she got in contact with Toronto police in the summer of 2008 when she filed a criminal harassment complaint against her ex-boyfriend. When he was released from custody, she believed he was nonetheless driving in her neighbourhood and approached Bonazza’s marked Toronto police car to ask if police could run the licence plate of the car she believed her ex-boyfriend was driving.
It was during that encounter that Bonazza obtained the woman’s phone number and later called her. Court heard from the complainant that Bonazza told her that he had “read her file” on her complaint with her ex-boyfriend, although he was not involved in the investigation.
On the stand, Bonazza admitted he looked up the woman’s file regarding an ongoing criminal harassment complaint she had against her ex-boyfriend and that this was a way of conducting a “background check” on her prior to spending time with her.
“We work in a city where there’s a lot of people who are mentally unstable,” the officer said, adding that there are many people who are dangerous and he didn’t want to associate with her if that was the case.
Hill, the hearing officer, did not immediately decide on penalty during the hearing.
With Star files
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis