Hamilton police cruiser

Scott Gardner, The Hamilton Spectator
The Hamilton Police Service wants Sgt. Jason Howard fired for filing false medical benefit claims.

A Hamilton police officer guilty of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act is still waiting to learn his fate.

The police service wants Sgt. Jason Howard fired for filing false medical benefit claims. Howard’s lawyer argues his client merits no more than a serious demotion.

The two sides reiterated their positions Wednesday before new hearing officer Terence Kelly, who took over after Robert Strathdee died suddenly in January after hearing the evidence.

Kelly received transcripts of the hearing and heard submissions before adjourning to May 3 for a teleconference to set a date for sentencing.

Howard pleaded guilty in July, admitting he filed 22 false physiotherapy and chiropractic claims (discovered in a random audit) to Manulife between January and October 2013, resulting in $960 of fraudulent reimbursements.

He has said they were mistakes made through poor record-keeping and receipt storage.

Related criminal fraud charges against Howard were withdrawn last year.

Lawyer Bernard Cummins said on Wednesday Howard’s actions do not warrant a dismissal because he has an otherwise stellar employment record and commendations over the years.

He suggested a demotion from sergeant to fourth class constable, adding, “That is an enormous penalty with enormous consequences for my client and his family.”

Cummins said Howard is a long-serving, well thought of, and highly productive officer without previous disciplinary history, and quoted performance appraisals calling Howard highly motivated, driven, professional, and showing strong leadership.

“What you see is an officer who exceeds expectations from the get-go, right back to 2007,” when first considered for promotion to sergeant, Cummins said.

Police prosecutor Marco Visentini, however, argued for Howard’s immediate dismissal because of his “significant breach of trust” of his employer and of Hamilton taxpayers who foot his salary.

“We must impress on others they cannot engage in this misconduct and still keep their jobs,” he said.

Visentini also said the scope and length of the fraud means trust in Howard has been lost and it is the police service’s view that he cannot be rehabilitated.

Howard addressed Kelly, saying he feels awful about his actions, done at a difficult time in his life when he was going through a separation.

“It was out of character,” he said. “I brought a lot of shame and embarrassment to the Hamilton Police Service after working so hard for over 15 years. I’ve brought a lot of shame to my family.

“I hope I can move forward.”

Howard has been suspended with pay since April 2014.

Source: The Hamilton Spectator