The release of new documents and evidence by Darcy Allan Sheppard’s father has raised serious and troubling questions about the conduct of special prosecutors Mark Sandler and Richard Peck in the case against former Ontario attorney general, Michael Bryant. The documents released after three and a half years shed doubt upon many of the claims and statements made in court by Mr. Peck on May 25, 2010, to justify the withdrawal of charges against Michael Bryant.
A Bryant Watch investigation looked at each stage of the events on August 31, 2009, Bryant’s claims, the available evidence and how Mark Sandler and Richard Peck chose the evidence to support claims made by Michael Bryant. We will look at each stage of the investigation, what Sandler and Peck chose to investigate and more importantly what they chose not to investigate and ignore.
In a recent email to the Toronto Star, Mark Sandler wrote, “it would be difficult to find a case in which the prosecution more thoroughly investigated the allegations before determining that there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction.” Mr. Sandler would only be correct if he was referring to the lengths the prosecution went to ONLY investigate and corroborate unsubstantiated claims made by Michael Bryant.
This was a homicide case. Michael Bryant was charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death yet homicide detectives were taken off this case and it was handed over exclusively to traffic services who are not as experienced investigating a homicide.
As an introduction to this case read the “Media Backgrounder” prepared by Allan Sheppard Sr. and released in conjunction with the new evidence.
Part one: Background – Michael Bryant’s state of mind
As Richard Peck described the events of August 31, 2009, Michael Bryant and his wife were out celebrating their twelfth wedding anniversary. However, it was tension filled evening, endured rather than celebrated by two people coming to recognize a failed marriage.
At this point Michael Bryant was a recovering alcoholic. He gave up drinking in 2006 after his wife endured more than a decade of his alcoholism and all of the problems that went along with it. Bryant had forgotten all about their anniversary. He had no gift and made no arrangements.
“I was usually in the dog house that summer. Somehow I wasn’t engaged with the same human race of which my wife was a member. I was a distracted presence in my own marriage, my mind usually somewhere else. I was going through the pressure of a career change, a significant reorientation, maybe even something of a small mid-life crisis.” (28 Seconds, p. 6)
“Our marriage is in trouble. We know it. We’ve been in counseling since the spring. It’s our second counselor. A gift that strikes the wrong note could wreck the night. And what about the card? Too gushy and it would sound insincere. Too close to the mark and there’d be no respite, even for a few hours this evening, from the tension that’s become the new normal.” (28 Seconds, p. 10)
As they toasted their anniversary, Bryant thought to himself, “Happy Nervous Anniversary.” He was fearful for their relationship.
“But what scared me most was the absence of a heartfelt anything, [emphasis is Bryant’s] at that moment, apparently for both of us. (28 Seconds, p. 12)
Describing their walk along the beach, after exchanging gifts, Bryant writes about their crumbling marriage. He admits he and his wife argued.
“We talked about our marriage – part debate, part monologue, part argument.”
In a Toronto Star article by Jennifer Wells, from August 18, 2012, Bryant says:
“It was just, you know: ‘What happened?’ ” says Bryant, trying to recapture the searching conversation, one to the other.
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
“Who am I?”
“Who am I?”
“Why all this resentment? Why all this bitterness? Why all this contempt?”
After the beach, the Bryant’s drove to Danforth and Pape for baklava. According to their parking receipt, they would leave there at 9:36pm. Bryant’s wife, Susan mentioned that she had wanted a travel book for her upcoming trip to Brazil.
“I kicked myself for not thinking of adding the travel book to her anniversary present. I suggested that if we hurried, we could make the Indigo book store at Bay and Bloor, near Yorkville, on the way home. One of us called to find out they closed at 10 p.m.” (28 Seconds, p 14)
Phone records would reveal the exact time of this call but we could estimate it took place within 5 minutes of the parking receipt, leaving about 19 or 20 minutes for them to arrive, park and get in to the book store before it closed at 10 p.m.
In his book, Bryant says that before they reached Yonge, they decided they couldn’t make it in time and didn’t make the turn at Bay St. However he also says the trouble with Darcy Allan Sheppard began at Yonge Street which comes just before Bay. Furthermore Peck says in the court transcripts that they came upon Sheppard at Yonge and Bloor around 9:45 p.m. The police reconstruction report says Bryant stopped at the red light near 102 Bloor at 9:47pm. According to the memo notes of PC McKeon the video from 77 Bloor Street West shows Bryant and Sheppard clearing the Bay and Bloor intersection at 9:43 p.m.
This would mean that Bryant raced from Danforth and Pape to Yonge and Bloor in about 5 or 6 minutes. He did say they would have to hurry to make it. (Google maps say it should take about 13 minutes to get to the Indigo Store from Pape and Danforth.) He could have made it to Indigo in time if it wasn’t for the traffic jam at Yonge Street.
“Approaching Yonge Street, westbound about 50 yards east of Yong and Bloor, the traffic slowed; I assumed it was because of construction. We were bumper to bumper, sometimes at a standstill. So I undid my seatbelt and rose up in my seat, looking to see what was holding us up.” (28 seconds, p 15)
Bryant says Sheppard was the cause of the traffic jam.
Without any corroboration from witnesses or video, Bryant claimed that Sheppard had placed a traffic cone in the middle of the road and that he was throwing garbage on the road. As he proceeded through the intersection of Yonge and Bloor, Bryant was behind a white SUV. He says he decided to pass the SUV because it was being delayed by Sheppard but the important point is that he passed the SUV because it wasn’t going fast enough for him. The reason he passed could also have been because he was impatient and in a hurry.
So here is the point at which Bryant encounters Sheppard.
Neither Richard Peck nor Mark Sandler gives any thought or discussion as to Bryant’s frame of mind at this point. He is going through a lot of intense pressure. He has just changed careers. He has left the government that has defined him for the past ten years. He is facing a self-described mid-life crisis and his marriage is crumbling. The night hasn’t gone well either. Their anniversary has only highlighted their problems as they argued about their relationship, raising feelings of resentment, bitterness and contempt.
In a last ditch attempt to salvage the night Bryant raced to Bay and Bloor to buy his wife the anniversary present that she really wanted. He made excellent time until his path to redemption was stopped dead by a traffic jam for which Michael Bryant blamed Darcy Allan Sheppard.