A former Toronto police sergeant convicted of sexual assault for groping two women inside his police car acknowledges he must go to jail and wants to start serving his sentence immediately.
Christopher Heard “doesn’t care what the season is, he wants to get on with his life,” his lawyer, Gary Clewly, said in sentencing arguments before Ontario Court Justice Philip Downes at a Scarborough court Wednesday.
“And the first impediment to that is the sentence he must serve. He wants to begin serving that sentence today or tomorrow,” Clewly said.
Heard was found guilty in September of two separate but nearly identical sexual assaults inside his police cruiser in the fall of 2015. Following the conviction, Heard resigned from the police service, where he had worked for 29 years, which was “a painful decision,” Clewly said.
Clewly asked Downes for a four-month jail sentence, which he noted would likely be served in segregation, due to Heard’s position as a former police officer.
Crown prosecutor Peter Scrutton asked Downes for a nine-month sentence, saying Heard’s offences represented “an egregious breach of trust.” He was only able to commit them because he was a police officer, Scrutton said.
“It is clear from their evidence that neither (victim) would have accepted a ride from some random stranger,” Scrutton said.
“Both of them assumed they’d be safe,” he said.
Downes will sentence Heard later Wednesday afternoon.
“I find that these women told the truth about what Sgt. Heard did to them: He touched them on their inner thigh near their vaginal areas without their consent,” Downes wrote in his Sept. 19 ruling.
“That is a sexual assault.”
The two young women came forward independently with accounts of being picked up by Heard while they were alone in Toronto’s Entertainment District. The young women — who do not know each other and whose identities are covered by a publication ban — both said Heard approached them and offered a ride home.
It was after they were alone with him inside his police vehicle that each woman said he groped her. In both cases, Heard failed to activate his in-car camera, contrary to police procedure.
In victim impact statements, both women described suffering emotional and financial blows due to the sexual assaults and the prolonged court process. Both described becoming fearful around police, and one said she is afraid of retribution from other officers.
“I don’t think Sgt. Heard perceives the gravity of his actions and the cost to (the Toronto Police Service) of this broken trust,” one of the victims wrote.
Heard, a married father of three, took the stand to deny the allegations, agreeing that he had picked up the women but denying that he had touched them. In his ruling, Downes said he did not believe his account, concluding that the officer was not a credible witness.
“Sgt. Heard gave me the distinct impression at times that he wanted to focus on his version of events at the expense of answering a question directly,” Downes wrote.
The conviction was the latest development in a years-long saga that saw Heard charged in 2016, acquitted in 2017, then re-tried at a second trial in June after Crown prosecutors successfully appealed Heard’s acquittal, arguing trial judge Justice Russell Otter erred in his ruling.
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Clewly had argued that the women each had a motive to fabricate the allegations against Heard, which Downes rejected.
“The defence would have it that two young women, both motivated to fabricate allegations of serious misconduct, just coincidentally were picked up by the same officer and made, completely independently of each other, a false allegation of the exact same type of sexual assault in the exact same circumstances.
“It defies all logic and common sense,” the judge wrote.
Timeline of the case
March 2016: Sgt. Christopher Heard is charged with one count of sexual assault for allegedly picking up a 27-year-old woman near Wellington Street and Blue Jays Way on Sept. 24, 2015, offering her a ride home, then groping her in the car.
May 2016: Heard is charged with a second count of sexual assault for allegedly picking up a 25-year-old woman near Blue Jays Way on Nov. 1, 2015, also offering her a ride home, then groping her in the car.
May — June 2017: Heard’s trial begins on two counts of sexual assault.
October 2017: Heard is acquitted on both counts. Ontario Court Justice Russell Otter finds Heard not guilty due to concerns about the reliability of the complainants’ accounts.
October 2018: Justice Tamarin Dunnet orders a new trial after Crown lawyers appealed Otter’s decision. Dunnet found that Otter may have erred in his decision to acquit.
June 2019: Heard is retried on both counts at the Scarborough courthouse. Both complainants retestify and Heard also takes the stand again to deny the allegations.
September 2019: Justice Philip Downes finds Heard guilty of two counts of sexual assault.
With Star files