In the end, a jury found a trio of drug dealers with lengthy criminal pasts to be more believable than Hamilton police officer Craig Ruthowsky.
The jury in the trial of the veteran Hamilton cop found him guilty of corruption charges Wednesday afternoon, accepting the drug dealers’ testimony that he was cop on the take, and not Ruthowsky’s version that he was a committed officer fighting crime through unorthodox means.
The jurors delivered guilty verdicts on counts of bribery, obstruction of justice, breach of trust and cocaine trafficking.
They also found Ruthowsky, 44, not guilty on a charge of conspiracy to traffic marijuana. The jury had been deliberating on a verdict since Monday evening.
As the verdicts were read aloud, one member of Ruthowsky’s family stormed out of the courtroom, crying.
Ruthowsky himself stood silent next to his lawyers, with his hands shaking behind his back.
I see it as a vindication for the officers who do the right thing.– John Pollard, assistant Crown attorney
After the judge left the courtroom, Ruthowsky walked over to his wife and other members of his family and simply said “it’s okay,” quietly.
Some cried softly in the courtroom after the verdict was read. Others just shook their heads.
Assistant Crown attorney John Pollard told reporters outside of court that it’s a “dark verdict.”
“You don’t like to get a finding from a jury that a peace officer has engaged in this kind of conduct. But it’s an important verdict,” he said. “I think it’s important in terms of the rule of law, and it’s important for the people of Hamilton.”
A he said, she said case
The verdict marks an end to the lengthy and intricate trial, which stretched into its seventh week during jury deliberations. Proceedings began in Superior Court in Toronto on March 12.
Ruthowsky was arrested after being caught on police wiretaps as part of a massive Toronto police guns and gangs investigation called “Project Pharaoh.”
The jury heard from the trio of drug dealers but also from a steady stream of police officers from jurisdictions like Hamilton and Toronto, who testified about police practices and procedures, as well as their interactions with Ruthowsky. As the trial unfolded, the jury was taken into Ruthowsky’s world — one where he was taking illicit payoffs, making deals, and subverting police practices for his own gain.
It seemed he operated unchecked at Hamilton police because he was able to get results.
The crux of the trial came down to two main witnesses — Ruthowsky himself, who elected to testify, and the Crown’s key witness. He can’t be named because of a publication ban.
He was a drug dealer who alleged that he and a crew of fellow dealers were paying Ruthowsky $20,000 monthly payments over a ten-month period back in 2011 and 2012, in exchange for protection and tips on police investigations. He, and the other dealers who testified, gave the court an inside look at dealing cocaine and the perils that came with it.
Essentially, the jury’s decision boiled down to a “he said, she said” situation. The dealers, who all had lengthy criminal pasts, testified that Ruthowsky was a cop on the take who let them roam free and sell drugs in Hamilton.
Ruthowsky, by contrast, testified that he was a devoted officer, passionate about fighting crime and the dealers were feeding him information as informants, while he strung them along with minor assistance in the form of something he called “perceived benefit.”
Hamilton police chief says he ‘respects’ the jury’s decision
Ruthowky’s lawyer, Greg Lafontaine, did not immediately comment on the verdict.
In an emailed statement, Hamilton police Chief Eric Girt said the service “respects the decision of the jury.”
“As the matter remains before the courts for sentencing, the Hamilton Police Service will not be making any further comments,” Girt said.
Defence lawyer Greg Lafontaine questions his client, Craig Ruthowsky. Justice Robert Clark and Assistant Crown attorney John Pollard look on.(Pam Davies/CBC)
Ruthowsky’s case has raised many questions about Hamilton police’s practices. Critics say information revealed at the trial could put prosecutions at risk, and also raises questions of oversight.
Pollard said that the verdict is a “vindication for the officers who do the right thing every day.”
“What’s happened here is an outlier. I think if you scour Canadian criminal law you’re not going to find another case quite like this one,” he said.
“So I think you can still have faith in what the police are doing. I see it as a vindication for the officers who do the right thing.”
The verdict is far from the end of the road for Ruthowsky, or his family.
Last August, Ruthowsky was hit with 16 separate charges, including bribery, breach of trust, perjury, cocaine trafficking and weapons trafficking.
The preliminary hearing for that case is slated for October.
Pollard said he couldn’t give an in-depth explanation of those allegations, but did say it’s a “very different kind of case” that has some overlap with this one, but also includes different allegations by “more Crown witnesses.”
Ruthowsky also faces police act charges.
Sentencing in the case is expected on May 11.
Pollard said he hasn’t yet fully considered the Crown’s position on sentencing, but thinks it would “have to be a penitentiary sentence of some kind.”