An Okanagan RCMP officer was suspended with pay in December 2019 after allegations surfaced that he’d been sending sexually explicit text messages to an alleged assault victim in a case where he was the lead investigator, and recently-released court documents suggest he has admitted to misconduct.
The court application also alleges that two other officers knew about Const. Sean Eckland’s misconduct and failed to report it.
It is alleged that the sexts sent by Eckland suggest that he and the alleged victim meet up in the courthouse to have sex in the bathroom on the day they were both slated to testify against the suspect in the case, Lonnie Smith.
Smith had been charged with aggravated assault, unlawful confinement, sexual assault and uttering threats in relation to an incident in Lake Country in April 2018.
He had pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and unlawful confinement but was reluctant to plead guilty to unlawful confinement, according to the defence. He denies any sexual assault.
Smith told Global News at the time that he believed the charges against him had been trumped up.
The alleged victim and sole witness in the case had also expressed reluctance to testify to some of the charges, according to her lawyer.
After learning about the alleged sexts between the woman and the lead investigator, Smith tried to withdraw his guilty plea.
“On Feb. 5, 2020, the Crown first advised the applicant’s counsel that it had been informed by the RCMP that Cst. Eckland came forward voluntarily and admitted his misconduct on the morning of Dec. 10, 2019 in a meeting with Supt. Mundle,” according to Smith’s application to withdraw his guilty plea.
“It is unknown when Crown counsel first became aware of this meeting.”
The court application also alleges that at least two other RCMP officers knew about Eckland’s alleged misconduct but failed to report it.
According to Smith’s application, Eckland told another constable about the inappropriate relationship twice, but the officer did not make any notes or inform his superiors.
Court documents also allege that a second officer became aware of an ongoing relationship involving flirty messages between the Mountie and alleged victim at least three days before Smith entered his guilty plea.
The constable became aware of the alleged misconduct while investigating allegations of witness tampering in the case, according to Smith’s court application.
“It is difficult to believe that (the officer) did not ask more questions about Const. Eckland’s conduct than she included in her notes. If she did not think it was appropriate to do so, it would be inconceivable that she did not consider it necessary, as part of her duties, to advise a superior or fellow officer or Crown counsel about what she had been told,” Smith’s application said.
Smith’s defence lawyer said Eckland’s alleged mishandling of the witness should have been disclosed at the earliest opportunity.
The court application stated that Smith’s guilty pleas should not be valid because he was not aware of the alleged inappropriate relationship between Eckland and the alleged victim.
The documents also allege that Smith’s decision to plead guilty was significantly impacted by misinformation given to him by the Crown at the courthouse on the morning of the plea.
“Crown counsel led the applicant to believe that his liberty could be lost on that day on the basis of witness tampering allegations, despite knowing that there was no credible evidence to support these allegations at the time,” Smith’s court application said.
A new prosecutor has since been appointed to the case.
Court has previously heard that the New Westminster Police Department is investigating Eckland’s conduct.
The Crown told Smith’s lawyer that Eckland was under investigation for breach of public trust on Dec. 17, 2019, according to the court application.
In an email, Crown spokesperson Dan McLaughlin said that on July 6, 2020, the Crown consented to the defence application to withdraw Smith’s guilty plea.
“None of the issues raised in the application itself were addressed in court,” McLaughlin said.
RCMP said in a statement that Eckland is still suspended with pay.
Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet also said that there are a number of processes underway, including a criminal investigation, an internal RCMP code of conduct investigation and ongoing judicial proceedings.
“We are confident that the processes underway will allow for a full review of the allegations and the processes are in the best position to determine of the facts in this matter,” she said.
Cory Armour, Smith’s lawyer, said the criminal investigation into Eckland is still underway and details on what, if anything, will ultimately happen to him are sparse.
“But what we do know is at least two officers (we don’t know if there were also others) were aware of his misconduct and did not report it,” he said.
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