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Former RCMP officer handed $500 fine for missing laptop
Almost a year after charges of theft were brought against a former Cranbrook RCMP officer, Bryden Hennessey pleaded guilty to a lesser offence in Cranbrook Provincial Court on Friday, January 18.
Hennessey, who stepped down from the RCMP after he was charged with theft in January of 2012, was found not guilty of theft, but instead pleaded guilty to breaching the offence act. He was given a fine of $500, to be paid within 30 days.
After an RCMP investigation, Hennessey was found to have taken a laptop while on official RCMP duty. The laptop was never turned in as evidence, and its whereabouts are still unknown.
Hennessey's new charge, which he pleaded guilty to, was a breach of the Offence Act, section 23. It states that: "A person who executes a warrant may seize, in addition to the things mentioned in the warrant, anything that on reasonable grounds the person believes has been obtained by, or has been used in, the commission of an offence."
However, Hennessey did not properly follow the act when he failed to return the item to the person it was seized from or bring the item to a justice to be dealt with.
Deputy of Regional Crown Counsel for the Kootenays, Philip Seagram told court the circumstances around the seizure that lead to the initial charges.
On August 6, 2011, Hennessey was called to a local pawn shop after the owner contacted the RCMP to report a possible stolen laptop. Hennessey attended, and after doing some checks on the RCMP computer system, could not find a report that the laptop had been stolen, but advised that he would take the item back to the detachment for further investigation by more computer-savvy officers.
The laptop is described as a used E-Machines laptop with feminine details on the desktop. It was pawned for $100 and was to be resold for $140. Hennessey left with the laptop and power cord.
A few days later, now-retired Cpl. Chris Faulkner attended the pawn shop on an unrelated matter. The owner of the shop enquired about the laptop that was seized by Hennessey. Faulkner told the shop owner that he would look into it. After returning to the detachment, Faulkner checked the computer system to see if the laptop had been logged into evidence by Hennessey. The file stated that there had been no seizure of any property, and that no action had been taken. Faulkner told the shop owner that the item had not been taken, and upon review of video surveillance, the owner was able to prove that the item had been removed from the store by the RCMP officer.
Hennessey's fellow officers on duty that day all reported not seeing a laptop. Cpl. Bob Potter, who was the shift supervisor on August 6, 2011, later recalled reviewing Hennessey's file and specifically asking him if any property had been seized. Hennessey confirmed that nothing had been taken, and Potter himself amended the file.
An internal investigation was sparked in October, and the laptop was in fact found to be missing. Chief Superintendent Michael Sekela visited Cranbrook on January 31, 2012 to announce the charges to media.
"I've stated before that allegations of misconduct by our members are extremely troubling," Sekela said at the time. "They are troubling to the public, and they are troubling to me. But they are also troubling to the over 9,000 RCMP members in British Columbia who have the highest moral and ethical standards."
The file was then handed over to the Crown and has been working its way through the court system ever since. The RCMP offered $140 in restitution to the pawn shop for the value of the laptop. Hennessey paid that amount back to the detachment on Friday.
Counsel for Hennessey, Duncan Smith, confirmed the circumstances, but added a few details. Smith said Hennessey had planned to take the laptop back to the detachment to deliver to more experienced officers, but he did not follow proper protocol for entering evidence.
"What we have here is good intentions, which led him down an unfortunate path," Smith said.
The item should have been entered into the evidence locker, but Smith said Hennessey was dealing with the break down of his marriage at home, and "his mind was elsewhere," and he did not log the item.
Smith said that by not following the proper protocols, "this laptop went astray." He stressed that this case proves why those protocols should be followed in the first place. He also said the quality and low value of the laptop were reason enough to question why Hennessey would be willing to throw away a career with the RCMP.
Seagram and Smith entered a joint submission for sentencing, requesting a fine of $500. They both outlined the consequences that have already befallen Hennessey, including the loss of his career and marriage.
The Crown also noted that the RCMP had to use significant resources to investigate the missing laptop, and the incident brought embarrassment to the RCMP.
Smith countered that although the RCMP used resources to investigate the potential theft, there were other options available that would have been less time consuming and expensive. He did not say what those methods were.
Hennessey declined to say anything to the court. Judge Grant Sheard, who heard the matter, stood the matter down to consider his sentence. When he returned, he handed down the fine of $500 for contravening the offence act, and found Hennessey not guilty to the original theft charge.
At the January 31, 2012 press conference, Sekela reported that Hennessey had voluntarily stepped down following the investigation.
"He will never work for the RCMP again," he said.
Henessey attended Depot Division in August of 2001, and was posted to Cranbrook in 2007.