CHATHAM, Ont. -- Police employed an undercover operation reminiscent of a TV cop drama to get Justin Kozlof to admit inflicting the injuries that killed his infant son.
On Monday, the 26-year-old local man pleaded guilty to manslaughter and assault causing bodily harm that caused the death of 23-day-old Kavan Riddell. Kozlof received a six-year jail sentence, minus two months for pre-trial custody.
Both Kozlof and Kavan's mother, Candice Joy Riddell, were originally charged with manslaughter in the death of their child, after police responded to a 911 call on Nov. 18, 2010, at the residence they shared.
However, on June 27, 2011, the manslaughter charge was withdrawn against Riddell and stayed against Kozlof. He was arrested in early May and charged with manslaughter and assault causing bodily harm.
Assistant Crown attorney Randy Semeniuk, who handled the case in court, said he instructed police to continue the investigation.
He said police utilized the "Mr. Big Operation," which the Court of Appeal has upheld as an appropriate tactic.
This undercover operation involves an officer befriending the accused, as well as drawing him into minor criminal activity, Semeniuk said. The undercover officer gains the confidence of the accused, as the minor criminal activity continues for a period of time, he added.
"In this case, what we had was the police were coming to re-arrest him (Kozlof) . . . so the undercover (officer) took him out of town . . . to meet 'Mr. Big,' the head of the operation," Semeniuk said.
He said the officer posing as Mr. Big told the accused he's been doing good work and asked him if he wanted to keep working.
Mr. Big also told Kozlof the police were going to charge Kozlof with the death of his child, and convinced him he could make it go away.
However, Mr. Big told Kozlof he needs to know what happened.
Semeniuk said Kozlof initially denied everything, but then admitted "he lost his cool because the baby was crying, he hadn't been sleeping, and he struck the child four or five times in the back of the head, and the baby immediately stopped breathing."
The autopsy determined that the cause of Kavan's death was traumatic head injury that included skull fractures, Semeniuk said.
He told investigators it was necessary for Kozlof to make some admission, even it was something the Crown could say is contrary to the medical evidence. He added it was also necessary for Kozlof to say he was the one that was responsible for inflicting the injuries.
"We finally got that admission," Semeniuk said.
Det.-Sgt. Trevor Crane told QMI Agency this was one of the most challenging investigations he's worked on. He added it was also one of the most fascinating.
"It's a testimony of the dedication of the people who work here - they're top-notch," Crane said.
He said the undercover aspect of the investigation took more than a year, within the 20 months from when police responded to the call on Nov. 18, 2010.
"Oftentimes with a homicide investigation, you'll run a team response to the investigation, but you'll also have covert stuff going on, as well," Crane said.
When it comes to any type of baby death or homicide, Crane said officers will "utilize resources from wherever we can get them."
In undercover operations, he said, it's often necessary to reach out to other agencies because local officers - whether they work undercover or not - are well-known in the community.
When asked how gratifying it was to get a conviction after all the time and effort put in, Crane said:
"Ultimately, we want to get some justice for Kavan."
He noted a 23-day-old baby was robbed of ever seeing his first birthday.
"In that respect, it's bittersweet," Crane said.