Supporters of woman with Down syndrome pack hearing for police officers caught mocking her
The two Toronto constables are charged under the Police Services Act in connection to an incident where they called Francie Munoz, a woman with Down syndrome, a half woman and a “little disfigured.”
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Staring straight ahead, never once looking back at the woman they were caught mocking or her phalanx of supporters, the two Toronto police officers accused of professional misconduct for spouting insults captured on their own cruiser’s dash camera appeared before a disciplinary hearing Tuesday.
Const. Sasa Sljivo and Const. Matthew Saris are charged under the Police Services Act in connection to an incident where they called Francie Munoz, a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome, a half woman and a “little disfigured” in comments to each during a traffic stop.
Their words and laughter were discovered after Francie’s mother, Pamela Munoz, fought an alleged traffic violation and subsequently obtained dash cam video from the traffic stop. The audio also recorded Sljivo and Saris refer to her daughter as “different.”
The towering officers, both dressed in dark blue suits, made their first brief appearance before the police disciplinary tribunal, which was packed with Munoz’ family and friends, including some with Down syndrome and their relatives.
The officers quickly left the hearing room after the minutes-long appearance, averting their eyes.
“I looked at them,” Francie Munoz said afterwards. “They did not look at me.”
In an unusual move, the allegations against the officers — including the details of alleged misconduct — were not read out during the hearing, a staple of any first appearance before the tribunal. Neither Toronto police nor the officers’ lawyer, Gary Clewley, immediately responded to questions about why the charges were not provided at the hearing.
Neither officer entered a plea.
Last month, Sljivo and Saris sent a letter to the family apologizing for their “inexcusable remarks” and taking full responsibility.
Soon after the incident came to light, Toronto police chief Mark Saunders addressed the officers’ comments, telling CP24 that they were not a “fair representation of what goes on on a day-to-day basis.”
The officers’ apology did not seem sincere, Pamela Munoz said. The family had asked for them to apologize in person and wanted their comments to be captured on video. If the officers were willing to do that, Munoz said, they would withdraw their complaint to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), which had resulted in the misconduct charges.
The officers, however, had not agreed to the family’s terms.
Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, said last month that Sljivo and Saris had made repeated attempts to arrange an in-person meeting with Francie and her family, and that the officers “have accepted responsibility for their comments from the beginning.”
“They have taken a lot of justified criticism from the public and their peers and regret their comments,” McCormack told the Star last month.
Professional misconduct charges before the police tribunal can result in penalties ranging from a reprimand to dismissal. After the hearing Tuesday, Pam Munoz told reporters she hopes for the latter, though she doubts that will occur.
“In our hearts, a great outcome would have been for them to leave the Toronto Police Service, because it’s shameful for police officers to feel that way,” she said.
The family feels buoyed by friends and supporters standing alongside them at the hearing, she continued, particularly relatives of other people with disabilities.
“It doesn’t just affect us. It affects our community,” she said. “(Other parents) are frightened about the repercussions — will our kids be looked at differently by the police, will they not take care of them if they need help?” she said.
The officers are due back before the disciplinary hearing next month.
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