By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It was a typical Sunday in Oshawa before things took an unexpected turn for Herman van der Veen.
A case of the wrong place at the wrong time led to van der Veen being arrested for a sexual assault he didn’t commit and suffering the consequences the incident has left on his life.
Wrong place wrong time
It’s Nov. 23, 2014, and having picked up his tickets to see the Oshawa Generals take on the Owen Sound Attack later that night, van der Veen ran a few errands, stopping to grab some things at Home Depot and Princess Auto before heading to the Oshawa Centre to pick up a bite to eat before puck drop.
It’s a decision that the 75-year-old Van der Veen might like to have back.
Heading toward McDonalds, passing a group of kids, van der Veen orders a coffee and a muffin. While he waits, one of the teenagers, approaches him.
“Some kid comes up to me and he says, ‘Were you groping me?’ Very low key,” van der Veen says. “I just went nuts. I said, “I don’t even know you, get away from me.”
The interaction attracts some attention from other patrons in the food court. After picking up his order, Van Der Veen approaches the teen.
“I see the kids hanging around and I went at him again and I said, ‘Don’t you ever say this to anybody again.’ By that time, a lot of people were up in arms and they called the security and they came over,” he says.
It’s 5 p.m.
At this time, Const. Brandon Stanway with the Durham Region Police overhears a dispatch call at the Oshawa Centre regarding a suspicious person. According to the general occurrence (GO) report obtained by The Oshawa Express, Stanway was in the area at the time and arrives at the Oshawa Centre at 5:06 p.m.
He visits the security office and speaks with the 14-year-old teen who alleges van der Veen ran his hands down his sides and groped his buttocks.
Van der Veen, having finished his coffee and muffin, decides to order something else and moves toward the food counters to make a decision.
At the same time, Const. Colin Lemanis, also dispatched for the suspicious persons call, arrives at the Oshawa Centre.
At 5:11, six minutes after his arrival, Stanway informs Lemanis, who is now approaching the food court, that there are grounds for van der Veen’s arrest.
“This big cop comes up to me… and says, ‘You’re under arrest,” Van Der Veen says.
It’s 5:12 p.m.
Six minutes later, Stanway speaks with a witness of the event who claims he saw van der Veen’s hand running down the teen’s thigh and buttock area.
“The touch was described as quick contact made in passing,” the GO report states. However, the witness was “confident the act was intentional.”
The witness claims matched those of the accusing teen, who claimed he felt two hands, one on each hip.
Later that night, at 7:01 p.m., after van der Veen has been interviewed and placed in a cell, Stanway interviews another witness in the group who was brought to the station. While he did admit to only seeing the incident from the corner of his eye, he did have some words to say about the teen.
“(The witness) informed me that he had concerns about (the teen) telling the truth, he wanted to voice these concerns personally rather than put them in writing. The witness informed me (the teen) is a known liar and attention seeker. The two are both friends of several years and although they are friends, (the witness) knows (the teen) is a liar,” the GO report states.
It isn’t until almost 8:30 p.m. that Van Der Veen is released from his cell. He takes a cab back to the Oshawa Centre to retrieve his car, and returns home to Cobourg.
The investigation concludes
All but one of the multitudes of cameras in the mall food court were pointed in different directions at the time of the incident. The only camera that was aimed at where the alleged incident took place wasn’t recording footage at the time.
On Dec. 4, the case against Van Der Veen was closed with no charges laid.
According to the GO report, Stanway has also been informed that the teen has since backtracked on his story, claiming that perhaps things didn’t happen in the way he remembers them.
“He is confident that someone touched him and that he immediately saw the ‘old man,’ but admits that the contact could reasonably be confused with an unintentional contact made in passing. Now that he has had time to think about the incident calmly, he is satisfied that the offence did not occur as he originally believed,” a GO report from Dec. 4 states.
According to DRPS, Stanway was unavailable for an interview for this story.
However, van der Veen was not satisfied, worried that the incident would continue to hang over his life.
Van der Veen filed an official complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) claiming he was improperly and falsely arrested.
However, no action was taken on the complaint, as the OIPRD found there were reasonable grounds for his arrest.
The months following
“We went through three months of hell,” Van Der Veen says.
Van der Veen lived in Oshawa for 28 years prior to moving to Cobourg. He volunteered with St. Vincent’s Kitchen and with the Oshawa Senior Citizens Centre.
Most recently, he wished to volunteer at the library, but changed his mind when he performed a background check on himself and found that the arrest for sexual assault pops up. While not on the National Criminal Records database, an entry for his arrest appears in the investigative data bank.
“All of a sudden you’re a criminal,” Van Der Veen says.
“I’m a good citizen, a damn good citizen and we’re trying to help people by volunteering and then you get this (expletive) thrown at you,” he says.
Van Der Veen says he doesn’t want to sue, he doesn’t want the hassle and to spend the money. He just wants his life to go back to how it was before the incident.
“I’m getting sick and tired of it. I’m at the point now where we want to drop it,” Van Der Veen says of himself and his wife, Sandra.
For Sandra, perhaps a simple apology is in order.
“It’s unfortunate that these two police officers will go unscathed. The police department will never apologize or say they did anything wrong,” she says. “It could have been handled entirely differently.”