An investigation into a high-ranking OPP officer’s discreditable conduct – which led to “harmed” relationships and left a sense of betrayal in its wake – wrapped up recently.
The OPP probe into the conduct of Chief Supt. Angie Howe concluded Jan. 9, when the officer was ordered to forfeit 80 hours of her banked time.
Howe was charged under the Police Services Act in connection with an incident that involved one employee grabbing another employee during a dinner in September 2015. Although Howe initially pleaded not guilty, she changed her plea to guilty at a Dec. 11, 2017 hearing.
When OrilliaMatters requested the original notice of hearing from the OPP (including the details of the incident), Insp. Charles Young of the OPP's Professional Standard's Bureau said it had been withdrawn and amended; the facts relied upon and spoken to were contained within the final decision. Because of that, they chose not to release the original notice.
In an agreed-upon statement of facts in the final decision rendered in January, it was noted Howe was the bureau commander between 2012 and 2014 and maintained responsibility for the Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Procedural (WDHP) policy. She met with and inappropriately conversed with members who were involved in an active WDHP investigation into the incident, where personal and medical information was inappropriately disclosed during these conversations, violating WDHP policy.
As a result, Supt. Robert Gould determined in his January ruling that Howe was guilty of discreditable conduct.
Although the specific details of the incident are not included in the final decision, Gould stressed the OPP had been open with the public concerning the matter.
“The OPP has also been transparent with this misconduct and held a very public hearing in order to acknowledge the importance of public interest and internal OPP interest,” said Gould in his decision.
According to the allegations outlined in the original notice of hearing – as reported in the Orillia Packet & Times on Aug. 24, 2017 – Howe knew one employee (identified as AB) had made a complaint regarding another employee (named BC) grabbing their crotch at a mess dinner in September 2015.
Howe brought the allegations of BC's misconduct to the attention of OPP management and was identified as a witness in the incident.
According to the initial allegations filed in April 2017 by OPP Deputy Commissioner Gary Couture, Howe didn't take an objective approach with either individual or the investigators looking into the incident.
Specifically, the report states that later that September, Howe offered to be a "totally confidential shoulder" to BC, with text messages confirming "ongoing friendship and personal support."
The next week, Howe was alleged to have initiated a breakfast meeting with BC and to have said that anything said would be kept "between us."
BC, who had been suspended with pay when the meeting occurred, allegedly told Howe BC couldn't remember what had happened due to heavy drinking, but felt "bad, upset and afraid that AB hated BC."
Howe allegedly later received a text in which BC said the chat was "what I needed!"
"You told investigators words to the effect that your relationship with BC was purely professional and minimal outside the investigations," the report states.
It goes on to say Howe spoke with other managers regarding the breakfast meeting and expressed concern about "how the incident was impacting BC and BC's spouse," and once dropped by to see the investigating officer to chat. The report goes on to outline how she left the "responsible officer with the impression you were attempting to elicit sympathy or empathy on behalf of BC."
Later that fall, Howe suggested she and AB get together for lunch to discuss the incident. During that meeting, Howe allegedly told AB how BC "felt humiliated, embarrassed and bad," while leaving AB with the impression Howe was more concerned about the investigation's impact on BC than AB.
In his ruling, Gould said he considered many factors while deciding on a course of action, including Howe's high ranking in the OPP, the erosion of public trust, the seriousness of the misconduct, interpersonal issues at play and deterrence.
“Howe has over 28 years of service... and was responsible for the very WDHP policy at the heart of this misconduct. The decision to cross that line (act of interference) was ill advised when the inappropriateness of conversations with AB and BC is viewed from the policy perspective,” said Gould in his ruling.
“Howe will have some considerable work to do to win back the loss of respect and trust by the OPP and its members. Relationships were harmed and people feel betrayed,” said Gould.
Howe previously served as regional commander of the OPP's Central Region, as well as commander of the force's Career Development Bureau. During the investigation, Howe was the commander of the OPP Field Support Bureau.
However, Young confirmed this week that Howe is no longer the current commander of the Field Support Bureau.
“I will also add, for clarity, that this fact is not connected in any way to her recent disciplinary proceedings,” said Young.