Forced Confessions

A Victoria homicide case puts the spotlight on police interrogations

Photo by Grant Harder

The death of Owen Padmore, a thirty-one-year-old University of Victoria student, was, from the beginning, a puzzle.

On December 9, 2001, Padmore visited his mother, Jeanne, at her home in Oak Bay, an affluent municipality just outside Victoria. He arrived around 10 p.m., talked with Jeanne until she went upstairs to bed, and then reportedly started watching TV.

Sometime after midnight, Jeanne was awoken by loud bumps from the floor below. She went downstairs, then called 911 and said her son seemed to be having a seizure. First responders discovered Padmore unconscious in the living room with severe head trauma. He was taken to Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital. Thirty-six hours later, he was dead.

Police officers who visited the house didn’t find much, just a drop of blood on the porch steps, and a few others scattered around the main floor. Over the following weeks, police conducted interviews with those who had been present that night: Jeanne, as well as two residents whom paramedics never saw—Padmore’s sister, Christabel, and her friend Rob Ander, who was staying in a bedroom upstairs.

Christabel, then a twenty-five-year-old student and volunteer English teacher, said she’d been trying to sleep in her basement bedroom when she heard Padmore “crashing around” the main floor. Soon there was more noise, and Christabel heard Padmore saying aloud that his head hurt. Christabel stayed in the basement throughout the ordeal.

Ander, a university graduate then twenty-eight years old, has always maintained that he never heard anything that night. He said he’d returned home late, having worked two fifteen-hour days on the mainland helping a friend renovate a house. He’d watched the news with Christabel in her room, gone up to his room, and slept through the noise. (Ander and Jeanne declined to comment for this article.)

One of the investigators’ leading theories of how Padmore was fatally injured originated with Jeanne—a registered nurse—who told paramedics that, before losing consciousness, he had mentioned falling. Padmore struggled with alcoholism and often went out for a cigarette before bed. Had he fallen down the porch stairs? The forensic pathologist eventually attributed the death to a “head injury and its complications due to a fall.”

Six years passed. Then, in March 2008, the Oak Bay Police Department received a call from the RCMP in Airdrie, Alberta. An old friend of Padmore’s, Patrick Madsen, was claiming that the death might not have been an accident after all.

Memories are fickle. When we replay events in our mind’s eye, small distortions sometimes expand, warping even the most treasured recollections. Memories can also be affected by new information after the fact. What we recall may feel 100 percent accurate. But that doesn’t mean it is.

When Madsen met with Sergeant Jim Hull of the Oak Bay PD in April 2008, he told the story of the last time he’d seen his friend. It was a chance encounter the day he was injured, as Madsen was leaving the Safeway Plaza near Oak Bay. More than fifteen years later, Madsen still stands by this version of events. “Almost right away, I could tell there was something wrong with him,” he says. Padmore was “angry and down and a little depressed.” Madsen remembers seeing marks on Padmore’s face and possibly on his hands, too.

At a public hearing, Madsen would describe how Padmore was worked up about the situation at his mother’s house. He wasn’t happy with Ander’s presence, and planned to go there that evening to throw him out. He also wanted to conclude an altercation he’d had with Christabel. (According to police files, the two had recently quarrelled when Christabel became upset over Padmore’s dinner-time drinking.) Madsen cautioned his friend against doing anything hasty, and drove away. Later that week, he heard that Padmore was dead.

Madsen chose not to approach the police. But six years later, the incident still weighed heavily on his conscience. “It was like someone was poking me and poking me and poking me,” he says.

After meeting with Madsen, Hull began a review of the case, and, in October 2009, an official investigation was launched. Hull and two supporting officers worked the case, dubbed Project E-Pumpernickel, virtually full-time from a covert location. They re-examined evidence and re-interviewed law-enforcement and medical personnel, some of whom had originally expressed suspicions.

One of those witnesses was Dr. Lorne Porayko, who had treated Padmore at Royal Jubilee Hospital. Porayko had been told that the patient had suffered a brain injury after falling down stairs while intoxicated. When Padmore died, Porayko called the Oak Bay PD. “I was concerned that his death was not an accident,” he later said. “[I] just wanted to be absolutely certain that it was fully investigated.”

Porayko’s suspicion stemmed from abrasions on Padmore’s right knuckles, marks that, in his experience as a martial artist, were “consistent with being in a fight.” What he saw “didn’t really square” with what he’d been told. Doctors had noticed other injuries, too: the swollen orbital of Padmore’s right eye, and bruises, although it was unclear whether they were all recent.

In the days following Padmore’s death, Jeanne became unsure about whether Padmore actually had mentioned falling, or whether she had simply assumed he had done so. Had the suggestion that Padmore fell, which was noted in documents reviewed by medical personnel, swayed the forensic pathologist? No alcohol was ever detected in Padmore’s system.

Hull and his team commissioned a review from Dr. Bernard Bannach, assistant chief medical examiner for the province of Alberta. After inspecting the documents, Bannach said that it would be unusual, although not impossible, for a fall to cause Padmore’s fatal injury—an impact with a flat, broad surface on the top of his head. He wrote that “[an] assault therefore should be strongly considered.”

In June 2010, Hull secured wiretap authorizations and put Ander, Christabel, and Jeanne under surveillance for six months. Investigators listened in on calls, installed outdoor cameras, bugged cars as well as at least one house, and kept an eye on their targets. There was even a secret agent: Patrick Madsen. He was set up with a microphone, and sent to confront Jeanne with the suggestion that Christabel and Ander had killed Padmore.

Not long after the wires went live and the police informed the family that the case had been reopened, investigators overheard something significant: Ander claimed that his cousin, a law-enforcement officer, had searched his name on police databases that summer during a family gathering at Kitsilano Beach. Ander even mused that he himself might be the prime suspect.

Hull’s team investigated further and discovered that this cousin, Constable Stephen Todd of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), had actually run Ander’s name on three separate occasions: in 2006, 2007, and July 18, 2010—the day of the family reunion.

Then, in September 2010, the nature of the conversations picked up on the wiretaps changed. The sudden shift coincided with a golf trip on Vancouver Island that Ander took with his cousin. After Ander dropped Todd off at the ferry following their second day on the course, he drove to Christabel’s house, where an outdoor camera captured them having an animated discussion. Following that, the suspects stopped talking about Padmore.

The investigators thought they had found a cop who might be obstructing a homicide investigation and aiding a target. But the problem also presented an opportunity to make progress on the case, and the team began developing a plan to use Stephen Todd to take down his own cousin.

On March 3, 2011, Stephen Todd, a twelve-year veteran of the VPD, was getting ready to start his shift with the Collision Investigation Unit. He was chatting with colleagues about where to meet for coffee when his “boss’s boss” approached. He told Todd that he wanted a word with him.

Todd was brought into a superior’s office and then instructed to sit down at a table across from Hull and RCMP officer Ross Joaquin. The two informed Todd that his cousin, Rob Ander, had just been arrested for the murder of Owen Padmore. They also said that criminal charges were ready to go against Todd himself, ostensibly for helping his cousin evade a years-long investigation.

Allegedly, Todd asked for a union representative—which is standard practice when officers are accused of misconduct—but the investigators rejected the request. Todd nonetheless agreed to continue, and a tape recorder was turned on.

Todd could not provide much detail about Padmore’s death. He knew his cousin had been present the night it happened. But he’d heard that it was an accident.

The investigators pushed him to talk more about Ander. They also seemed to know more about Todd’s recent conversations with his cousin than Todd himself could remember. The presented explanation for this was clear: a wiretap notice for Todd—signed on deputy attorney general of British Columbia letterhead—was on the table in front of him.

Todd admitted to having searched Ander’s name on several occasions at his cousin’s behest (although Ander has since denied ever making such a request). It wasn’t “the most ethical” thing to do, Todd conceded, but he’d never thought much about it.

Todd described a conversation he’d had with his cousin at Kitsilano Beach during the family gathering the previous summer—a moment that the officers would become especially focused on.

There were some details of which Todd was certain. Todd had popped by the reunion during his day shift. Everyone was watching his wife Brandee finish a swimming race. His nephews and nieces were playing outside his squad car. Inside, he ran the name of Rob Ander, who was sitting beside him, through the computer database.

The interrogators moved on. “The running of people in the computer—I do understand that happens. You know, like, you got a nanny, you want to know who’s living with your kids,” Joaquin said. “I’m not judging you or anything; I just want the truth on the homicide.”

But as far as Todd could recall, Ander had never said anything about a murder during the family reunion. Whenever they talked about it over the years, Ander’s story had always been the same: on December 9, 2001, he’d slept through the night. Todd thought that people weren’t sure what happened—that maybe Padmore had been drunk and fallen down some stairs. Todd also admitted to having general conversations with Ander about his time working in surveillance, but maintained he never knowingly helped his cousin evade any investigation.

“I’d rather we’re forthright and honest about everything,” Joaquin said, later adding, “Don’t say anything unless you know you’re sure.”

Now, with Ander in custody, Todd told the officers that he felt embarrassed, used. “I just would have never imagined that he’d be involved in it,” he said.

Joaquin and Hull seemed to believe him. A little under an hour into Todd’s recorded statement, they turned the tape off. The questioning appeared to be over.

Growing up in North Vancouver, Stephen Todd had sometimes thought about becoming a police officer. But everyone seems a bit surprised that he actually did. He’s nothing like the stereotypically gruff, tough cops of primetime TV; he is easy and open, affable and almost earnest.

After high school, Todd completed a political science degree at the University of British Columbia. When police officer was a match on two separate career tests, he followed through on his childhood plan.

Todd worked property crime and did surveillance—“jumping fences, crawling through bushes, that type of thing”—before eventually landing in the Collision Investigation Unit. When there was a fatal crash or a serious injury on the road, Todd was called in to collect data on how it had happened.

Every crash has its own calculus of guilt, Todd explains. If the skid marks aren’t rained out, he can use mathematical formulas to determine the speed a car was travelling. But when physical evidence is scarce, memories are required to fill the gaps. “That’s when a witness can be helpful,” Todd says. “But a lot of time, witnesses are unreliable.”

Peter Tewfik, an RCMP interrogator assigned to help with Todd’s questioning, had been camped out in the VPD cafeteria, trying to monitor the statement remotely. Although he heard only fragments of Todd’s freeform narrative—the signal was spotty—Tewfik came to the conclusion that the dialogue was “superficial.” He decided to go into the room and intervene.

With the tape recorder still off, Tewfik accused Todd of holding back, and told him his disciplinary hearing might go more favourably if he co-operated with the investigation. The recorder was turned on, and the interrogation circled back to that moment in the squad car at Kitsilano Beach.

When Todd had pulled up Ander’s file, the results read something like “Privatized. Information not available; contact Sgt. Jim Hull for details.” They had never been inaccessible before.

Todd wondered aloud about what his cousin had then said: “Does that mean I’m a suspect?” Todd then clarified that he was just speculating on what Ander might plausibly have said.

Joaquin introduced a new angle. Had Ander said anything new about Padmore’s death, something he’d never revealed before? Todd replied in the affirmative, but he couldn’t recall the details.

“Just close your eyes—a deep breath,” Joaquin said. “And definitely no one’s judging you on this. I just want to know the truth.”

Todd took off his duty belt and pistol and went to the bathroom, teary-eyed and emotional, blowing his runny nose. Joaquin escorted him.

Back in the room, Joaquin appealed to Todd’s sense of professional honour. “We’re cops,” Joaquin said. “We swore an oath. We’re supposed to stand up when nobody else wants to stand up, and that’s what we do. Do you believe in that?”

“Oh yeah, hundred percent,” Todd agreed.

Then Tewfik took over the questioning. For the short period he dominated the proceedings, Tewfik found a rhythm. “Here’s the thing,” he said. “You haven’t been entirely honest. That’s going to come out…There’s no hiding from it.”

Joaquin piped in: “The decision you make in this room is your fork in the road,” he said. “It’s going to dictate everything else, right?”

In a confident voice, Tewfik said that he knew that Todd had information about Padmore’s death. But he also made comments that seemed to diminish the incident: “Owen was an asshole,” for example, and “It got out of hand. That’s what happened.”

When Todd made an effort, however hesitant, to offer details, the interrogators encouraged him. When he faltered, or tried to avoid speculating, they wouldn’t have it: “Put down the ‘I don’t remember.’” “Don’t bury it—let it out.” “You do know the concluding little bit…You just can’t believe that you know it.”

Todd later said that the spectre of the wiretap and his own criminal charges were haunting his thoughts. He couldn’t connect the dots between what he thought he knew and what the other officers said he knew.

The interrogation continued, and by around 7 p.m., Todd is on tape hesitantly saying this: at Kitsilano Beach on July 18, 2010, in the middle of a family reunion, Rob Ander confessed to hitting Owen Padmore with a hockey stick in the house and pushing him out the front door.

What Todd didn’t know was that almost everything the investigators had told him in the hours leading up to this moment had been a lie. There were no criminal charges ready to go against Todd. The wiretap letter from the deputy attorney general’s office was a forgery. And while it’s true that Ander had been arrested for murder, the only real evidence the investigators had against him—after almost two years of investigation and an estimated $750,000 in costs—was the statement Todd had just provided.

That, too, would soon fall apart. Less than twenty-fours hours later, Todd says, he emerged from a haze and found himself trying to understand how he could have remembered receiving a confession from Ander that was never actually delivered.

In the 1940s, former Chicago police officer John Reid pioneered a new approach to interrogation that would transform the way suspects are questioned. It’s become a hallmark of police dramas: an austere room, an omniscient officer, a suspect seemingly trapped, with nowhere to turn. It’s part of the Reid Technique, and more than half a million law enforcement officials and security personnel have been trained to use it.

According to the Reid model, an interrogation begins when an interviewer determines that a person is guilty or has information to offer. They then push aggressively for confirmation—ideally, in the form of a confession.

Officers apply pressures known as “minimization” and “maximization.” Minimization provides a moral framework for confession: the interrogator might provide justifications for the offence, and downplay its gravity. (Critics of the technique say the officers can imply—intentionally or not—that there will be leniency.) Maximization involves creating the sense that the evidence against the suspect is overwhelming—even when it isn’t.

For years, detractors have argued that the technique is built on shaky science and the presumption of guilt.

“Once police make an early judgment that the target is lying or guilty, they are then no longer in an information-discovery mode,” explains Keith Findley, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and the co-founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. “They’re told, ‘Don’t interview in ways that are open to disconfirming evidence. Shut off all denials of guilt. Don’t let the suspect talk. Your goal is to gain incriminating information, period.’”

Many suspects who have been questioned with the Reid method were never guilty in the first place. (There is no evidence that officers can detect guilt or deception at rates much better than chance.) However, humans are vulnerable, suggestible creatures, and Reid interrogations exploit our weak spots. We crave conformity, defer to authority, deteriorate quickly when exposed to stress and fatigue, and often end up prioritizing short-term goals, such as a desire to go home. Put us in a seemingly hopeless and threatening situation, and we might say anything to escape.

According to the Innocence Project, in 28 percent of cases in which DNA was used to exonerate a convict, false confessions were involved in the original wrongful conviction.

When used on witnesses, coercive techniques can produce false accusations, as is illustrated by the story of Eric “Action” Morgan of Brampton, Ontario, who was charged with shooting Mervyn Spence outside Morgan’s thirty-ninth birthday party in 2006. No motive or evidence linked him to the murder. Rather, his fate was sealed in the interrogation room when detectives re-interviewed two witnesses four years after the crime using Reid-style questioning. A judge later found that the threatening, suggestive interactions had effectively led to “manufactured” evidence. Morgan had spent three and a half years in jail by the time his charges were thrown out.

When police use trickery or present false evidence, the risks of memory contamination are even higher. Suspects become more likely to confess, get confused, or confabulate—bringing their own recollections into line with the misinformation presented to them. They can even internalize their own false stories.

In a 2015 study at the University of British Columbia, researchers tried to implant false memories using common police tactics, including components of Reid. Over the course of three separate forty-minute interviews, participants were asked to recall two past events: one was real, supported by details provided by participants’ childhood caregivers; the other was false, a crime the participants had supposedly committed as children, but then “repressed.”

The interviewer’s approach was guilt-presumptive and deceptive. They told participants that their caregivers had supplied “incontrovertible” accounts of their crimes. The interviewer also deployed common—but controversial—police strategies, such as the use of guided imagery to retrieve so-called repressed memories. “We asked them to close their eyes—we try to take them back to the scene of the ‘crime’ in their mind,” says Dr. Stephen Porter, one of the study’s authors. In the end, 70 percent of participants produced detailed memories of a crime they had never committed.

The criminal justice system operates on the reassuring notion that memory is reliable, that moments are recorded by the brain and can be played back at will. But as Findley explains, “Memory is basically stored in our brain not as whole, contiguous memories, but as chunks. When you want to recall something, your brain has to reassemble all those chunks, which contain missing pieces of information, gaps, incomplete perceptions.” Our brains reassemble these chunks into seamless-seeming memories, but there are opportunities for corruption along the way. We sometimes find it difficult to distinguish real memories from false ones, and to draw a distinction between what we experience ourselves and what we learn after the fact.

When Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union and the Canadian Police Association, saw Stephen Todd, his first impression was that he looked like a beaten man. “His face was all red and flushed. You could just tell he was spent,” Stamatakis says.

Todd had just gotten off a plane from Victoria, and the first words out of his mouth were “It didn’t happen.” Ander had never confessed to him at Kitsilano Beach. “I was just like other people,” Stamatakis recalls. “I think, okay, you’re a twelve-year cop, you’ve got some experience. How do you end up in an interview saying something that didn’t happen?”

Then Todd described his interrogation and recounted what had transpired after it ended. Stamatakis, who has been representing officers at negotiating tables, on disciplinary issues, and in front of parliamentary committees, for two decades, says he was “gobsmacked” by what he heard: “I never imagined in my wildest dreams that anybody would engage in these kinds of tactics— never mind involving a police officer, but anybody, any citizen.”

While Ander was in custody in Victoria, Todd was flown from Vancouver to confront him. Todd wasn’t allowed a moment alone, even when he made a short call to his wife. Brandee was home with their two toddlers, and she remembers her husband crying.

“I’m thinking how I’m going to lose my job—financially a huge impact—how’s it going to affect my family,” Todd recalls. “My mother and Rob’s mother are sisters. This is just going to destroy everything.”

Todd was taken to an RCMP detachment to record videos in which he pleaded with Ander, Christabel, and Jeanne to come clean about Padmore’s death. That night, he attempted to sleep in a hotel room while another cop guarded him. Todd says the officers implied that he was a suicide risk.

The next afternoon, Todd sat across from his cousin and asked him to confess. But Ander said he hadn’t witnessed anything the night Padmore died.

“You did see [Owen]. You confronted him [that night],” Todd challenged him. “You told me so.”

“Unless I’m totally delusional, no,” Ander replied.

At one point, an RCMP interrogator asked Ander if he thought Todd was lying. “I don’t think he’s lying—I just think he’s confused,” he said.

Todd was put on a plane back to Vancouver, a free man but still under investigation. Only then did he start looking back on the whole ordeal. “Suddenly, it’s over. I’m coming home. I know I get to see my wife and kids. You can start thinking clearly,” he says. “It suddenly dawned on me. What the hell just happened?”

Canada has no specific national standards regulating the questioning of suspects and witnesses. Interrogations of suspects are constrained by the so-called confessions rule, a centuries-old tradition dictating that a confession must be voluntary, given without fear of prejudice or hope of advantage. But how much coercion or deceit renders a statement involuntary?

In the 2000 case of R v. Oickle, the Supreme Court of Canada provided a detailed discussion of false confessions. It recognized that false-evidence ploys, prolonged interrogation, implied threats, and minimization can undermine voluntariness and poison the reliability of confessions. But the Supreme Court did not create hard-and-fast rules against the use of specific techniques.

It was an attempt at balance: creating an informed framework for judges to use when weighing the voluntariness of confessions, while giving police latitude to use creative methods to solve serious crimes. The result, though, is that when officers walk into an interrogation room, there are few clear lines. Cops have, for instance, administered polygraphs and then lied about the results; they can claim to have physical evidence when none exists. Trickery and the use of false or misleading evidence are permitted, as long as they don’t undermine voluntariness or “shock the community.” However, what’s considered shocking is subjective.

Some jurisdictions have introduced more concrete limits. After a series of high-profile wrongful convictions, the British parliament enacted legislative reforms in 1984 that established baselines for interrogation—on how long suspects can be held, on recording practices. Today, investigators can no longer lie about evidence to suspects; they now conduct interviews using a method called PEACE, which abjures confrontational, guilt-presumptive interrogations in favour of open-ended interviews designed to avoid false confessions.

A handful of Canadian police departments have moved in this direction. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary adopted PEACE in 2009, and officers in Toronto have been trained in it. But there still remains a patchwork of techniques across the nation.

By June 2014, three years had passed since Todd had last put on his uniform. To support his family, the former constable had spent time as a late-night paperboy for the Vancouver Sun and stocked shelves at a grocer.

In the days following his interrogation, Todd was placed on administrative leave as the investigation into his actions continued. In four separate meetings with the VPD that spring, he recanted his statements about Ander’s alleged confession. Todd faced several allegations, including two counts of deceit under the BC Police Act: one for initially telling his interrogators that Ander had never confessed to him, and the other for “falsely” renouncing his statement that Ander had confessed to him.

Todd stopped running and cycling. He and Brandee started drinking. “I was going through some stage of depression,” he says. “I wasn’t working. I had no desire to do anything.”

Many days, Todd would take his kids to school and then sit in a chair in his living room, staring idly out the window and asking himself the same question: How could he have admitted to receiving a non-existent confession? “I just felt embarrassed. I’m in this situation as a police officer. Why did I react the way I reacted?” he says. Todd knew he was in the wrong for searching his cousin’s name in the police database, but in many circumstances, that’s a small infraction. At the time, Padmore’s death had seemed like a long-ago accident: Todd hadn’t been aware that it had been deemed an unsolved case; he hadn’t even thought of it as a possible murder.

In July 2013, Todd was found guilty of both counts of deceit, as well as neglect of duty, corrupt practice, and improper disclosure of information. A neighbouring police chief overseeing the proceedings concluded that Todd had failed to share details pertinent to a homicide and that he had accessed the police database to assist his cousin. He found it unlikely that Todd would have searched Ander’s name on three occasions without intent, and without having become suspicious of his cousin. He recommended that Todd be dismissed.

Todd was not without hope, however. He had the backing of the Vancouver Police Union, and a final recourse: a public hearing, slated for the summer of 2014.

Stamatakis and Kevin Woodall, the union’s lawyer, were convinced that Todd’s problems had been born of bad police work and manipulative questioning. While only Todd and Ander know the truth about what happened in the squad car that summer, several experts in the psychology of interrogation have said the risk factors for a false confession in this case were rife.

Dr. Brian Cutler, an expert in forensic psychology, wrote an opinion commissioned by Woodall for the public hearing. He called the Reid-style interrogation techniques used on Todd “highly coercive” and identified a litany of tactics associated with unreliable confessions: “prolonged isolation, forceful accusations, false statements and evidence…and the explicit incentive of having the charges against him go away in exchange for his cooperation.” As an officer, Todd could also have been expected to defer to rank and authority; even the Reid manual notes that the method can be effective on law enforcement, Cutler added.

Dr. Brent Snook, a professor of psychology at Memorial University who is an advocate for Canadian interrogation reform, was asked by The Walrus to review the transcripts. He came to similarly critical conclusions.

In the first portion of the interview, in which Todd provides a version of events corroborated by Ander, Snook saw few problems. But he described Tewfik’s Reid-style intervention as “suggestive” and “negligent.” The transcripts indicate that Todd rarely produced evidence unless he’d been pushed by his questioners. For instance, the alleged murder weapon—the hockey stick—came up during the following exchange:

Joaquin: So it’s not a vase. You know for a fact it’s something like sport thing, right? Okay, so?

Todd: Sport related.

Joaquin: Sport related, so is it a tennis racquet?

Todd: Hockey stick, tennis racquet.

Joaquin: Okay, so it’s a hockey stick—it could be a hockey stick.

Todd: No, I don’t think it’s, yeah.

Joaquin: It’s not a hockey stick?

Todd: No, no, sorry. I said I don’t think it’s a tennis racquet.

Joaquin: Okay, it’s not a tennis racquet. But it’s a golf club, a baseball bat, or a hockey stick. Big difference between all those, man.

“For me, these interrogators are creating the truth as they see it, not the truth as it actually exists,” Snook says. “Just based on the transcripts, if I had to go to court, I could say that you couldn’t trust anything that came out of [Todd’s] testimony.”

There was another reason Woodall and the Vancouver Police Union brass came to believe that Todd had never received a confession from his cousin—one that would become central to his defence: there was no conclusive evidence that a crime had even been committed.

According to Woodall, the Oak Bay investigators had only “agnostic” medical analysis to support their suspicion that an assault had occurred. They also had Patrick Madsen, an informant with an inconclusive memory. Nothing in the original files or subsequent wiretaps points definitively to a fight, much less to murder. “They weren’t one inch closer to a homicide case in 2011 than they had been in 2001,” Woodall says. Crown counsel did not approve charges against Ander after Todd recanted. (The Oak Bay PD, VPD, and RCMP all declined to comment.)

As Todd’s public hearing got underway, those connected with the investigation were called to the stand, and a surreal story of institutional dysfunction was entered into the public record.

When Todd and Ander sat in the squad car that sunny day in 2010, surrounded by family, Ander’s file was available only to Jim Hull—there was no additional information Todd could have disclosed to his cousin. The records also show that Todd searched the name of one of his sister’s friends, who was also in attendance, just four minutes after he typed in Ander’s. The computer search he conducted in 2006 was also not limited to his cousin: Todd also looked up two friends as well as himself (twice). He now wonders if he had simply been “bored out of [his] mind” while working a night shift.

Then there was the accusation that Todd had schooled Ander in surveillance, causing the suspects to stop talking about Padmore. This turned out to be ambiguous at best. Around the time Todd and Ander were golfing on Vancouver Island, Patrick Madsen was confronting the Padmores with his suspicion that Christabel and Ander had been involved in the death. Christabel visited a lawyer the next day and was advised to stay off the lines. The lawyer reportedly phoned Ander, too. Woodall implied that Todd didn’t tip off the suspects. The investigators did.

Although Hull disputed this argument—he said the timing coincided more precisely with the golfing trip—everyone agreed that when Todd was brought in for questioning, the multi-year investigation hadn’t turned up much hard evidence. It seems apparent that they saw Todd’s participation against his cousin as essential for getting a conviction.

During the hearing, it not only became clear that there had been a calculated plan to ensure that Todd would feel compelled to help, but that members of Todd’s own department had assisted in the planning.

On the stand, Hull said that in the lead-up to Todd’s interview, the Oak Bay team had pursued criminal charges against him for obstruction of justice. They planned to use the charge as leverage, an idea developed in discussions with some senior VPD staff. When the crown declined to pursue the matter, the interrogators opted to intimidate Todd, reportedly by saying charges were imminent.

The investigators had also discussed the possibility of providing Todd with union representation. Hull had no problem with that. Yet prior to the interrogation, someone in the VPD decided the union would not be involved. Hull and Joaquin maintained that Todd had not asked for representation to be present—he’d simply asked whether union representation would be appropriate. They argued that he’d freely participated in the questioning that followed.

The interrogators had also decided to emphasize that Todd was merely a witness in a criminal investigation. Witnesses, however, are not compelled to speak to police. And Tewfik was so concerned that Todd would walk away that he suggested using a forged wiretap letter in an attempt to get a reaction.

In March 2015, Todd was found guilty only of the two allegations to which he had readily admitted: improperly searching his cousin’s name on a police computer, and disclosing that the file was restricted. The punishment, handed down more than four years after his odyssey began, was a written reprimand.

The adjudicator concluded that serious questions about Padmore’s death remained unanswered, but found no evidence to implicate anyone. The evidence of a purported homicide was “entirely circumstantial,” he wrote, and there was no basis on which to conclude that Todd had received a confession from Ander.

The ruling came down harder on those responsible for Todd’s treatment than it did on Todd himself. It called the conduct of the police “well beyond the pale,” heaped scorn on the attempt to get false charges approved, and described the forged wiretap authorization as “egregious.”

Authorities will not confirm whether the investigation into Padmore’s death remains open. The family has stated that the police’s actions have made them feel violated; they had always supported the original forensic pathologist’s assessment that the cause of death was an accidental fall.

For Todd, life now is about reclaiming some sense of normalcy. When his superiors asked where he wanted to be assigned upon his return to the force, he opted to pick up where his life had been interrupted, in the Collision Investigation Unit.

“When I’m at a collision scene and I’m talking to witnesses or getting statements, I always have in the back of my mind what I went through, and I try to impress upon the witness to not speculate,” he says. “There’s no shame in not knowing.”

The Writers’ Trust of Canada supported the author of this story.

This originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.

Ben Travers
Ben Travers is a documentary producer and freelance writer whose recent work includes Payday, a VICE Media documentary that examines the financial lives of millennials.
Grant Harder
Grant Harder is a portrait photographer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, enRoute, and Monocle.