Former police sergeant testifying at human rights tribunal denies sexually assaulting, harassing colleague

By Victoria Gibson, Staff Reporter, Toronto Star

Tue., May 8, 2018


A retired Toronto police sergeant accused of sexually assaulting and harassing a female colleague testified at a human rights tribunal that two police investigations into the same allegations against him both found them to be “unfounded.”

However, he told the tribunal, he was never interviewed during the investigation by the Special Investigations Unit.

“I don’t know the exact number of people that were interviewed by the SIU, but to date, I have yet to be reviewed as a subject officer,” Sgt. Angelo Costa told the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing Tuesday. “I have no idea (why).”

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Costa said both the SIU and the force’s Professional Standards unit had labelled the allegations made against him by Const. Heather McWilliam as “unfounded.”

McWilliam, 33, filed a claim with the tribunal in 2014. She alleges she was sexually harassed and humiliated for years by her supervising officers and that she was punished for speaking out. She also alleges a systemic problem with the way female officers are treated within the force. Her case has been progressing intermittently since November 2016.

Over two days of examination and cross-examination this week, Costa denied the allegations against him — including that he kissed McWilliam during a social outing at a “police watering hole” before she started in his platoon; that he tried to put his tongue in her mouth; and that he made sexual comments and gestures toward her and others, including miming sex acts and boasting about his oral sex abilities.

On Monday, Costa, speaking on the allegations relating to the social outing, told the tribunal he gave McWilliam a “shoulder to shoulder” hug.

“It was an innocuous hug. It was just see you later, welcome to the platoon,” he said.

“She could have said no. She could have held her hands up,” he added on Tuesday. “She didn’t give me any indication that she wasn’t willing.”

He also said if he had kissed McWilliam, other officers at the same outing would have witnessed it. Costa testified that he never discussed sex with McWilliam.

When asked during cross-examination specifically whether he’d spoken about being an expert at oral sex, Costa said “no, I’m not an expert.”

When asked by McWilliam’s lawyer Kate Hughes whether it was possible he’d made comments referring to being an old Italian man or an old “hairy” Italian man, Costa said: “Anything is possible in life, but I don’t recall ever saying those comments.”

Costa testified that he never made any joke or engaged in any banter or teasing of a sexual nature, either directly or indirectly by innuendo, during more than three decades on the Toronto Police Service — and that the tribunal’s hearings had kept him from enjoying his retirement.

“I have to keep coming down here for the dates. I can’t fully enjoy what I worked hard to achieve, which is a place in the sunny side of the United States, spending six months there and six months here,” he said.

He also testified about the impact of the case on his wife and three daughters. “I have no idea why she did this,” he said of McWilliam. “My reputation has been damaged. It’s been all over the news.”

On Monday, the tribunal also heard from Staff Sgt. Brent Swackhamer. He testified that he’d instructed Costa to do a wellness check on McWilliam when she was home on medical leave.

McWilliam has earlier testified that she has been on sick leave since 2014, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of persistent workplace harassment.

Swackhamer said, at the time of giving instructions to Costa, he hadn’t known why she was at home, or about her PTSD diagnosis.

Swackhamer said Costa had asked around the platoon to see if anyone knew what was going on with McWilliam.

“I would have preferred that he had gone and done the wellness check,” Swackhamer said, when pressed by McWilliam’s lawyers on the stand.

Costa later testified that he thought it was easier and that it was a busy Saturday. He further said he’d been “bordering on insubordination” at the time.

Amandi Esonwanne, lawyer for Toronto Police Services Board, asked Swackhamer if he witnessed Costa miming a sex act during an afternoon or evening parade at the police station.

Swackhamer said he did not.

He was also asked by McWilliam’s council about an incident where he didn’t allow McWilliam to extend an assignment with the homicide squad. He was asked whether she was denied the opportunity because she was a woman.

Swackhamer said that was not the reason, but he testified at the tribunal that she was his only female officer at the time and he needed her to return to the platoon, saying that female officers were better at de-escalating certain scenarios, more empathetic and he needed one on his team to search female prisoners.

The tribunal resumes on June 5.