An independent review into the death of a three-year-old Truro, N.S., girl has found that police did not properly handle the investigation.
Samantha Mercer died after she sustained a significant brain injury in her home in March 2005.
Mercer’s mother’s boyfriend, Terry Dean Allen, was charged with manslaughter in her death. He testified that she fell down the stairs. A judge acquitted him at trial, saying the Crown failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the independent review released Wednesday, former Prince Edward Island Chief Justice Gerrard Mitchell determined that police could have improved their communication with the Public Prosecution Service.
Mercer’s family was devastated by the verdict and has questioned why certain pieces of evidence were never presented to the court, including a dented piece of wall from the girl’s bedroom.
Her grandmother warned investigators and crown lawyers early on there were problems in the investigation.
“Numerous times we had meetings and said there is something wrong, but no one listened. No one,” says Samantha Mercer's grandmother Shannon Mercer.
Mercer says the family wants accountability and an apology from the Chief of Police.
“An apology for all the hell they put us through for 11 years, and they knew right from the beginning. I often wonder how many other cases are out there like Samantha’s,” says Mercer.
Gerrard Mitchell says investigators were careless and took shortcuts, seizing evidence without warrants, and taking a statement from the accused without reading him his rights.
“Sloppy is the word that comes to mind,” says Mitchell. “The investigation was marred by procedural errors, neglect, lack of diligence and a failure to provide the crown with appropriate deliverables in a timely manner.”
In his report, Mitchell found the Justice Department's own internal review of the police investigation should have had been given broader authority under the Police Act to probe deeper into the case.
CTV Atlantic aired an investigative report, which highlighted letters and emails between Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution Service and the Truro Police Service, in March. In one email, a senior Crown attorney said the lead investigator told him he hadn’t had time to advance the case because he was responsible for a number of investigations and didn’t have a police vehicle or phone.
A month after CTV aired the story, the Nova Scotia Department of Justice called for an independent review into how the case was handled, with Justice Minister Diana Whalen saying new information had come to light that she hadn’t seen before.
She says going forward, the province plans to audit small municipal police services.
“Just to ensure that they are always meeting a high standard and the requirements and have the right resources,” says Whalen.
The Truro police service declined an interview Wednesday. In a statement they said: "We are very confident in our people and our ability to provide quality, effective policing. It is our hope that the Mercer family is able to find closure from this report."
Mitchell says he is satisfied with the current capabilities of the Truro Police Service and that he can't speculate how the botched investigation affected the verdict.
“I cannot say that even if they had done a much better investigation that the result would have been different. I cannot say that,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell is recommending the Department of Justice ensure all of its small municipal police forces have adequate training and support, and if the department conducts another review, it should be done with more authority.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kelland Sundahl.