A former Toronto police homicide detective who resigned earlier this year after stealing opioids from the force’s evidence lockers has admitted in court that he removed drugs on as many as 20 separate occasions over at least 18 months.
Under cross-examination in connection to a murder case in Ontario Superior Court last month, retired Det. Paul Worden testified that he took drugs from active cases. One instance included removing “three or four percocet pills” from evidence connected to the November 2018 fatal shooting of 23-year-old Cardinal Licorish, an investigation Worden had, at one time, headed. Prosecutors have since withdrawn a second-degree murder charge against the accused in the case.
“Your experience as (an) officer was that you were actively committing an obstruction of justice?” Monte MacGregor, defence lawyer for one of two accused, asked in a cross-examination last month.
“I didn’t think — yes, you’re right. I didn’t really think it at the time, but I did it, yes,” Worden replied.
“And you knew that it was in relation to something serious, a homicide trial and ongoing investigation?” MacGregor continued.
“Correct, I knew that, yes,” he replied.
Worden’s testimony provides new details about the internal investigation into his conduct — and the ripple effects on the justice system — nine months after the officer suddenly resigned, admitting he’d removed opioids from evidence lockers. The admission came after he became the focus of an internal investigation into a suspicious locker entry.
The incident is part of a small but growing number of cases involving officers stealing drugs from their police service’s evidence lockers, in some circumstances after suffering injuries that left them with chronic pain.
Worden’s lawyer, Peter Brauti, has previously said his client — a 31-year veteran with an accomplished career — was feeding an addiction that began with prescription painkillers and an on-the-job injury.
Worden’s conduct prompted an external review by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) that Toronto police say is ongoing, and which is examining the impact on ongoing drug prosecutions and homicide cases.
Worden was testifying at a pre-trial motion in the second-degree murder trial of Raheem Moseley, one of two people charged in the killing of Licorish, who was gunned down Nov. 18, 2018, in the stairwell of a Scarborough building. Moseley’s co-accused in the killing, a 17-year-old boy who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was last year acquitted of second-degree murder but convicted of accessory after the fact to murder.
Crown prosecutors withdrew the second-degree murder charge against Moseley on Friday following the motion by MacGregor and co-counsel Amanda Warth to have a key witness statement excluded.
Although Worden’s actions may have become an issue at trial, they didn’t likely influence the Crown decision to withdraw the charge, MacGregor said, as there were other factors likely at play in determining there were no reasonable prospects of conviction.
The case is the second homicide prosecution that has hit a hurdle following the drug vault thefts. Earlier this year, the trial of a youth charged in connection to the 2018 stabbing deaths of two teens was delayed shortly after the thefts were discovered by Toronto police.
Since Worden’s conduct was detected, at least six federal drug cases have folded as a result, the Star has confirmed.
Worden was not criminally charged for any of the thefts, a controversial decision criticized as a double standard for police but called progressive by Brauti, who said police treating the incidents as a mental health issue will, in turn, make for a good precedent for everybody else.
“In the future, people will be able to point to this case and say, there was recognition of a medical issue, as opposed to a true criminal issue,” Brauti told the Star earlier this year.
In an interview, MacGregor said he was sorry to hear that Worden had been suffering with addiction, calling him a professional and respectful officer in past dealings. But he said the rule of law “demands equality under the law.”
“That’s the premise of it, our whole system is built on that,” he said. “When people are giving preferential treatment and better treatment, then you have to question who the participants are that are allowing that to happen.”
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Asked whether the OPP is examining the Toronto police decision not to charge Worden criminally, Meaghan Gray said the force “expects that this will form part of the OPP review.”
The findings of the OPP report will not be automatically made public.
“Any decision on what will or will not be released to the public will be a joint decision of (Toronto police) and the OPP, with advice from the Ministry of the Attorney General,” Gray said in a statement. Gray added that the OPP “is considering how and when the opioids were taken” as part of the review.
“It is worth noting that addiction and mental health issues are complex and unique to individuals and, often, there are limited visual signs,” Gray said.
Under cross-examination by MacGregor, Worden — who had been called as a witness as part of the pre-trial motion — said he’d been on prescription painkillers for 15 years, beginning with a shoulder separation injury that required multiple surgeries. He then had a fight in a courtroom where he broke some ribs, followed by severe arthritis, Worden said.
“The 18 months, or a little past that were you doing this, taking these exhibits obviously as an officer, you recognize the unlawful choice that you’re making in doing that, correct?” MacGregor asked.
“Yes,” Warden responded.
“You knew at the time that you did it that it included taking exhibits from cases that were actively ongoing?” MacGregor later continued.
“Some,” Warden replied.
Warth, MacGregor’s co-counsel, said in an interview this week that when news of Worden’s conduct first came out there was a suggestion the drugs were mainly taken from inactive cases, implying he actions were “no harm, no foul.”
“What’s evident from our case is that drugs were taken from an ongoing investigation,” she said.
The investigation into Worden’s removal of drugs from the Toronto police evidence lockers was also raised in a separate but related case in Scarborough court earlier this year, involving the youth initially charged in connection to Licorish’s murder.
Because the youth refused to answer questions when he was called as a witness at Moseley’s preliminary hearing, he was charged with contempt of court. At a May 2021 hearing on sentencing for the youth, his lawyer, Andrew Vaughan, raised Worden’s opioid thefts — which came to light a few months after his client was cleared in Licorish’s death, but convicted of accessory after the fact.
According to a summary of his arguments in a written decision by Justice Kate Doorly, Vaughan argued that he made “a significant number of concessions” at his client’s murder trial, and that he “relied in good faith on the integrity of the officers in doing so.”
Vaughan argued that, if the information about Worden’s conduct had been known sooner, his client “may well have been released on bail — as the disclosure of this theft had the potential to undermine the integrity of the prosecution,” according to Doorly’s decision.
In her decision on sentencing, the judge said it was difficult “if not impossible” to speculate on whether the young person would have been released had the information about Worden been known earlier. The judge sentenced the young man to just under 14 months in jail, saying she did not find that Worden’s theft was relevant.
“Were this a court of equity, perhaps, but I do not see how it otherwise bears on the sentencing for contempt,” Doorly said.
A spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) — the federal drug prosecutors — confirmed the PPSC had stayed charges in six of its cases as a result of information received from OPP investigators examining the Worden case. It would not provide any further information, including the nature of the charges or the names of the accused.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis
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