Niagara police officer faces criminal charges 0
Niagara Regional Police Const. Paul Zarafonitis was charged with assault causing bodily harm after Ontario's Special Investigations Unit looked into a May 19 incident at a Drummond Rd., bar where a photographer suffered a broken nose during an altercation with police. FACEBOOOK Special to Niagara Falls Review
A veteran Niagara police officer faces criminal charges after the province's police watchdog agency investigated complaints a man was assaulted during an altercation at a Niagara Falls restaurant.
Michael Farkas, 31, a photographer from St. Catharines, suffered a broken nose, broken orbital bone and fractured cheekbone as as a result of an incident on May 19 at the Kool Katts Caribbean Restaurant.
The Ontario Special Investigations Unit announced Wednesday that Niagara Regional Police Const. Paul Zarafonitis has been charged with assault causing bodily harm.
He is scheduled to appear in court in St. Catharines on Aug. 1.
The NRP issued a press release Wednesday afternoon confirming criminal charges were to be laid against an officer in relation to an on-duty incident that occurred May 19.
The NRP did not release the officer's name and would not provide any further information.
"In accordance with the Police Services Act, we're not allowed to comment and all inquiries have to be directed to the Special Investigations Unit," said NRP Supt. Bob Wright.
According to police, regulations under the Ontario Police Services Act prohibit the NRP from releasing further information.
Police would not comment on whether Zarafonitis, a member of the NRP for 25 years, is still on duty or has been suspended pending the outcome of the criminal matter.
"That is an employment issue and we are not involved in that," said SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon.
She said the Ontario Attorney General’s offices will handle the prosecution.
SIU director Ian Scott said in a press release that he had reasonable grounds to believe the officer committed a criminal offence.
"As this matter is now before the courts, and in consideration of the fair trial interests of the charged officer and the community, the SIU will make no further comment pertaining to this investigation," he added.
When contacted by The Review on Wednesday, Farkas said he was advised by his lawyers not to comment on the results of the SIU probe.
The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.
"Unfortunately, I just got off the phone my my lawyers and they're telling me not to comment," he said.
The charge came following an investigation by the SIU in which the agency appealed to witnesses to come forward.
At approximately 1:15 a.m. on May 19, police were called to the Drummond Rd. restaurant to investigate a noise complaint.
According to a press release issued by the SIU, Farkas, who was working that night as a photographer, began taking pictures of what was happening.
According to the SIU, there was an altercation between the photographer and some of the officers and, as a result, he sustained serious injuries.
Farkas, who operates G3 Designs in St. Catharines, was placed in a cell overnight and released in the morning.
Later that day, his friends took him to the hospital where he was treated for a number of injuries including a fractured orbital bone.
According to one witness, who spoke to The Review after the incident on the condition of anonymity, police became upset because the photographer was taking pictures inside the bar.
"He literally dropped his camera, put his hands behind his head and said he didn't want any trouble. Multiple witnesses saw that happen. They shoved him to the ground, his camera broke off his neck, they grabbed that and smashed it again."
The patron also claimed Farkas asked police for medical attention, but was denied.
Harley Davidson, who was at Kool Katts the night of the incident, is pleased with the results of the SIU investigation.
"We're very happy that it went through so fast," he said. "It was good to see that there is accountability."
Davidson, a 21-year-old Niagara-on-the-Lake resident, posted photographs online of blood on the ground at the restaurant.
That led to the formation of People unite against Police Brutality, a Facebook group that now has more than 6,500 members.
Members of the group recently held a protest outside the NRP detachment on Morrison St.
The four-hour protest was held in support of Farkas, Davidson said, and to show police that they are accountable for their actions.
The group plans to protest outside the St. Catharines police station next month.
Davidson also helped to organize several fundraising events in support of Farkas.
This is not the first time the officer in question has been the subject of a public complaint.
In May 2011, a Niagara man claimed Zarafonitis used unnecessary force during a protest outside Marineland. The NRP policing standards unit investigated the complaints and ruled they were unsubstantiated.
Two Niagara Falls residents filed a complaint against Zarafonitis in Aug. 2003 for unlawfully evicting them from their townhouse.
The officer plead guilty to the charge in December 2004 and lost 80 hours pay as a result.