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'Breach of trust': Sentence for Orillia OPP officer now in judge's hands

Crown attorney says Const. Bailey Nicholls' conduct was an 'absolute abuse of power' that has had a 'long-lasting impact' on the victim's life
Orillia OPP Const. Bailey Nicholls will have her legal fate determined by a judge at an April hearing.

More than four years after an incident in downtown Orillia that spilled over into the jail cell of the local OPP detachment, the fate of Orillia OPP Const. Bailey Nicholls remains uncertain.

On Thursday, an all-day sentencing hearing was held at the Orillia courthouse for Nicholls, who was found guilty of assault causing bodily harm last year for her interactions with an Orillia resident in 2019.

The Crown, Catherine Weiler, and defence attorney, Mike Wilder, both made their cases for what they deemed to be an appropriate punishment for Nicholls, following the incident in which Nicholls injured Shannon Hoffman while she was in custody.

Hoffman was arrested for public intoxication outside Studabakers at Orillia's waterfront on Sept. 7, 2019, before being brought to a holding cell at the OPP detachment then located on Peter Street.

Hoffman was asked to remove her jewelry, including earrings, a necklace, and chain on her neck. After struggling with removing the chain, Nicholls stepped in and snapped the chain from her neck.

Nicholls then attempted to remove a ring from Hoffman’s finger, which was tightly in place, when Hoffman reached out and grabbed Nicholls’ wrist — prompting the officer to push her back against the cell bars, putting her hand around Hoffman’s throat for roughly 3.5 seconds.

Following the interaction, Hoffman was taken to Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital with a wound on her head that required staples to close. A subsequent Special Investigations Unit probe led to the charge against Nicholls.

For Crown attorney Catherine Weiler, the assault demonstrated a “breach of trust” in Nicholls’ capacity as a police officer; she told the court Thursday that Hoffman was brought to the OPP station “purportedly for her safety.”

Among several aggravating factors, Weiler argued it was Nicholls’ conduct — not Hoffman’s — that “precipitated the use of force,” and that Nicholls acted contrary to her police training by “getting impatient and hands-on” during the altercation.

Weiler argued Nicholls’ conduct undermines “the public’s confidence in the police,” and read a victim impact statement from Hoffman, in which she called Nicholls’ actions an “absolute abuse of power” that has had a “long-lasting impact” on her life.

The Crown is seeking a 12-15 month conditional sentence, with one-third house arrest and one-third curfew, in lieu of a “short, sharp” jail sentence of 60-90 days due to the mitigating circumstance of Nicholls having an infant under one year of age — for which she is currently on maternity leave.

Justice Olver noted conditional sentences are normally no longer than double a jail sentence, and questioned the Crown’s rationale for the leap to 12-15 months.

The aggravating factors, along with Nicholls’ position of trust as an OPP officer “warrant exceeding that,” Weiler argued.

Defence attorney Mike Miller argued for either a suspended sentence or a conditional discharge in which conditions would be imposed upon Nicholls, but no conviction would be registered. He noted a conditional sentence would likely result in Nicholls’ termination from the OPP.

Miller highlighted Nicholls’ numerous efforts to contribute to the community, both in her work as an OPP officer and as a volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters, among other local organizations, and read numerous positive character references and performance evaluations from her superiors.

Miller called Nicholls a “thoughtful, generous, kind, empathetic and loyal person,” and said “it would be wrong to define her through the window of an incident lasting only a few seconds." He said Nicholls did not intend to injure Hoffman.

Weiler, however, argued that regardless of Nicholls’ intent, her “use of excessive force” nonetheless led to Hoffman’s injuries, and added that her career with the OPP is not the court’s responsibility.

“This hearing is fundamentally not about whether or not she gets to keep her job … that is up to Ms. Nicholls' police service,” Weiler said.

Justice Olver is expected to announce his ruling on the sentencing on April 4.

Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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