Fired cop says mental illness led to fraud charges, suing police department

Rob Thandi says investigation ignored possibility that mental illness led to benefits fraud

A fired cop is suing the Abbotsford Police Department, the City of Abbotsford and Chief Bob Rich, alleging they ignored his mental illness during a series of investigations that led to his dismissal.

Rob Thandi was dismissed in 2016, a year after he pleaded guilty to two fraud charges. He admitted that he became infatuated with a young woman and lied when he declared to a health benefits company that she and her son lived with him and thus were entitled to coverage. He also admitted to querying the woman’s name in police databases.

Thandi was diagnosed years prior with Bipolar II and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but had been allowed to take time off and see a psychiatrist when his illnesses produced “dysfunctional behaviour,” the suit says. But in 2012 he entered a hypomanic state and stopped taking his medication, something that had not occurred before. That helped lead to his obsession with the woman and his misdeed, the lawsuit says.

An investigation commenced in the spring of 2014 after the woman’s new boyfriend complained that Thandi’s behavour was unwelcome. Thandi alleges the police department breached their “duty of care” by failing to take his mental illness into account as the root cause of his actions. The suit says the department had successfully accommodated Thandi in the past, noting he had been employed as an officer since 1994.

The APD decided to forward the file to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC). When it did so, the APD failed to advise the OPCC about Thandi’s mental illness, the suit alleges. In turn, the OPCC delivered a report to Crown counsel, but didn’t mention Thandi’s mental illness.

In June of 2014, the suit says “Thandi was lured to a Starbucks on his birthday with an invitation of coffee by a former supervisor and arrested in the parking lot.”

The lawsuit questions why Thandi couldn’t have been provided a promise to appear and been spared the humiliation of an arrest. Rich and the department’s human resources manager had spoken to Thandi’s psychiatrist immediately following the arrest and expressed “great concern” about the potential that he would harm himself upon release, the suit says. Indeed, Thandi was “extremely depressed and suicidal” while in custody.

The psychiatrist asked to be notified if Thandi was charged, but when he was released that same day, police failed to notify the psychiatrist or any family members, it is alleged.

The APD has not yet filed a response to the suit, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

After a press conference at which police announced the charges – but didn’t mention that it involved a benefits claim issue for around $2,500 – the suit says Thandi was inundated with calls from shocked and upset family and friends. Thandi’s mental health spiraled downward, and the suit says he planned to commit suicide, but was talked out of the decision by his ex-wife.

When the Abbotsford Police Board, which is also being sued, suspended Thandi without pay in 2015, Thandi’s mental problems deepened further. Facing massive legal bills, the suit says Thandi had “no practical option other than entering a guilty plea.”

Meanwhile, the APD launched an extensive internal investigation that would determine Thandi’s future with the force. The investigation took nine months, but the suit says Thandi’s psychiatrist was only “very briefly consulted” on one occasion.

Thandi was eventually charged with 14 counts of misconduct, with the decision on Thandi’s discipline left to Rich. The suit says the police chief didn’t accept that Thandi “was in a hypomanic state when he committed the benefit fraud and thus determined his judgment was not impaired and he committed the benefits fraud knowingly and not as a result of his mental illness.”

Rich found Thandi’s “critical loss of judgment and an inability to stop oneself from doing things that are seriously wrong is not something that can be accommodated in this profession, even when there is a finding that the misconduct is non-culpable.”

The lawsuit cites the Police Act which advises taking corrective, educational approaches to misconduct “unless it is unworkable or would bring the administration of police discipline in disrepute.” And it suggests that dismissing a mentally ill person would be “undermining the public perception of the force’s humanity and competency in addressing persons suffering from mental illness.”

The lawsuit also notes that other officers charged with crimes haven’t been dismissed for their conduct, and says the APD didn’t consider possible jobs for Thandi in administration or civilian positions.

Thandi had also been injured in a car accident in 2013, and there had been an investigation at the time into whether Thandi’s absences from work weren’t due to the crash. The suit claims Thandi’s psychiatrist was told by a human resources officer that the APD hadn’t wanted Thandi to be allowed to return since then. It is alleged that prior to the fraud incidents, the APD and Rich had been looking for a way to stop Thandi from actively working with the department.

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