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SIU investigation: St. Thomas police officer suspended after sex-related charges laid

 Louis Pin, St. Thomas Times-Journal and Dale Carruthers, The London Free Press

An SIU vehicle was parked for hours Thursday outside the officer's house in St. Thomas. (LOUIS PIN, St. Thomas Times-Journal)

An SIU vehicle was parked for hours Thursday outside the officer's house in St. Thomas. (LOUIS PIN, St. Thomas Times-Journal)

ST. THOMAS - 

A veteran St. Thomas police officer facing five sex-related charges for offences involving an underage girl has been suspended from the force, the city’s police chief says.

Ontario’s police watchdog agency on Thursday charged Const. Garry Christiansen with sexual assault, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation and one count of assault.

St. Thomas police contacted the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) Sept. 8, after receiving complaints of a sexual nature involving a female youth that are alleged to have occurred between January 2016 and January 2017, the SIU said.

“This is an isolated incident and I’m hoping that the actions of one officer are not going to reflect upon the entire police service,” acting police chief Chris Herridge said Thursday.

While police aren’t permitted to comment on an active SIU ­investigations, Herridge assured the public that he’s

co-operating with the watchdog’s probe and suspended Christiansen Thursday.

“Public trust in police nowadays, it’s a challenge,” he said.

“We need to show the public

that we are being transparent and we are making the right decisions.”

Under the Police Services Act, the police chief can decide whether to suspend a charged officer with pay.

Ontario is the only province in Canada that requires suspended officers to still be paid. 

 


The SIU charged St. Thomas Const. Garry Christiansen with sexual assault, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation and one count of assault.

Christiansen, who has been with the St. Thomas force since 1990, was paid $103,312 last year, according to the annual disclosure of ­public-­sector salaries in Ontario.

The 27-year officer worked a desk job at police headquarters, Herridge said, adding his absence won’t affect police operations.

Members of the SIU arrested Christiansen Thursday. He was released on conditions, including that he not communicate directly or indirectly with the complainant.

Christiansen is to appear in court in St. Thomas on Oct. 17.

A half-dozen SIU officers were at Christiansen’s St. Thomas house, where he lives alone, according to neighbours.

A man whom neighbours identified as Christiansen stopped by the yellow-sided house around 1 p.m. He spoke briefly with the officers and showed them the back of his vehicle before leaving. The SIU team removed several boxes from the home and loaded them into the van parked outside later in the afternoon.

This is the watchdog’s second probe into the conduct of a St. Thomas police officer this year.

The SIU was called in to investigate after a 19-year-old man was seriously hurt during a confrontation with an unnamed officer at a Talbot Street home on Jan. 20.

The man was injured while being arrested, the SIU said, and was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. The case, which involves one subject officer and three witness officers, remains open.

Last year, the SIU opened two custody injury investigations involving St. Thomas police, according to the watchdog’s annual report. One case remains open.

In the other probe last year, three officers were charged initially, though charges against two were dropped later. The third officer was found not guilty at trial.

Formed in 1990, the SIU probes all cases of civilian death or serious injury involving police and allegations of sexual assault against officers.

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

lpin@postmedia.com