Winnipeg police officer pleads guilty to drinking and driving charge

A Winnipeg police officer has pleaded guilty to driving over the legal alcohol limit, after he drove home from a Henderson Highway bar while off-duty late last year.

Const. Oleksii Gerasymchuk was initially charged with driving while impaired and having a blood alcohol content over the legal limit of .08 on the night of Dec. 8, 2023, after officers were called by the bar with reports that he drove away while staff believed he was impaired.

On June 10, Gerasymchuk pleaded guilty in Manitoba provincial court to driving over the legal limit, but the impaired driving charge was stayed. Judge Raymond Wyant gave him a one-year driving ban and a $2,200 fine, along with ordering him to pay a victim surcharge of $200.

“More than anything it affects public confidence in Winnipeg police,” Crown prosecutor Nick Reeves said during the hearing, according to court transcripts.

Court heard Gerasymchuk was drinking alone at a Leopold’s Tavern on Henderson Highway on the night of Dec. 8.

Reeves told court that bar staff — who didn’t know he was an off-duty officer — believed he was intoxicated when he left. They followed him into the parking lot, where they saw him get into a vehicle and back into a garbage bin. Staff told him he shouldn’t be driving, but he drove away anyway, Reeves told court. 

The staff took down his licence plate and called police. Officers were sent to Gerasymchuk’s home, about half a block away from the bar, where they found his vehicle, court heard. 

He was given a breathalyzer and blew over the legal limit, court heard.

Gerasymchuk’s wife, who answered the door when police arrived, told them he had been having some troubles, court heard. 

Defence lawyer Matthew Gould said Gerasymchuk had learned about the death of a friend in the war in Ukraine, Gerasymchuk’s home country, the day before the incident. 

Court heard Gerasymchuk didn’t know his friend was fighting in the war against Russia, but saw his picture on social media and learned what had happened from a mutual friend.

Gould told court Gerasymchuk had moved to Canada from Ukraine and had been an officer for two years. He also said instead of going to a Christmas party with fellow officers that night, Gerasymchuk went to the bar to drink by himself.

‘Bad example’

The Crown prosecutor said in addition to blowing over the legal limit, continuing to drive when the bar staff advised him not to was an aggravating factor in Gerasymchuk’s case.

“This is the exact situation where somebody gets incredibly injured — you get too drunk at a bar, you go to leave, someone tells you to stop, and then you drive home,” said Reeves. 

“It’s really pronounced when it’s a police officer who’s tasked with protecting the public, and they’re putting themselves and others in this situation.”

Gerasymchuk told the judge he accepted the consequences of his actions and hasn’t consumed alcohol since, but Wyant said those in law enforcement are held to a higher standard. 

“We’re kind of on duty 24/7… and the public, of course, looks to us to set examples,” the judge said.

“When we set a bad example, it reflects badly not only on the individual, but on the organization that they represent and on the justice system.” 

Court heard Gerasymchuk has been working a desk job at police headquarters since the incident, rather than his general patrol position. That will continue at least until his year-long driving ban is over and any other orders by Manitoba Public Insurance are no longer in effect. 

Meanwhile, Wyant alluded to the 2005 death of a woman killed when an off-duty Winnipeg officer hit her car as an example of what can happen when drinking and driving turns tragic. 

Crystal Taman was killed when the off-duty officer, Derek Harvey-Zenk, smashed into the back of her car while she was stopped at a red light. Harvey-Zenk had been partying with colleagues hours earlier. 

He initially faced several charges, including refusing a breathalyzer sample and impaired driving causing death, but a controversial plea bargain led to all charges being dropped except for the charge of dangerous driving causing death, for which he was sentenced to two years of house arrest.

“We’ve certainly seen, as you have, I’m sure, some horrible tragedy as a result of drinking and driving,” Wyant said.