Melissa Sheridan says she went from a respected Sudbury businesswoman to social pariah after she was charged in 2020 with murdering her ex-husband, Brant Burke.
Sheridan has filed a lawsuit against the Ontario Provincial Police, Wikwemikong Tribal Police, the Ontario government and others for $8 million for charging her with the murder of her ex-husband.
None of the allegations in the statement of claim have been proven in court.
In the suit, lawyers for Sheridan accuse police of goading Brant’s brother, Kerry Burke, into implicating Sheridan as the prime instigator of the murder.
Brant’s body was discovered Oct. 25, 2020, on a hunting trail in Wikwemikong First Nation. He had been missing since Oct. 19. An investigation by the OPP and Wikwemikong police led to Kerry as the prime suspect.
It eventually emerged that Kerry shot his brother twice in the back and left him in the bush. He was arrested Nov. 24 and was interrogated by police for about four hours, ending at 1:30 a.m. Nov. 25.
According to Sheridan’s lawsuit, police pressured Kerry to name Sheridan as an accomplice.
“The defendants intentionally pressured and coerced Kerry to falsely implicate Melissa in Brant’s murder,” the suit said.
“The defendants knew, or ought to have known, that Kerry was exhausted, inebriated, and that he lacked capacity to provide reliable statements. The defendants took advantage of Kerry’s weakened condition and overbore his will.”
The suit said police used an interrogation technique designed to encourage suspects to implicate others as the main culprit and minimize their own role in the crime.
One officer told Kerry at one point that if not for Sheridan, there was “no doubt in my mind you wouldn’t have killed your brother.”
Despite repeatedly asking to speak to a lawyer –33 times — the lawsuit said police ignored the requests and kept pressuring Kerry to implicate Sheridan.
When he finally did implicate Sheridan, the suit said police ought to have known the information he gave was fabricated. For example, he said he had “a couple of phone conversations with Melissa, he claimed to have lost his flip phone, and that his cellphone had caught fire while he was swiping it and just exploded.”
The suit accuses police of encouraging Kerry to make up more details of Sheridan’s involvement and even helping him cover up inconsistencies in his story.
“In short, throughout the four-hour interrogation, these defendants collectively actively encouraged Kerry to implicate Melissa to help himself,” the suit said.
“They also helped him fix inconsistencies and fill in gaps in the narrative to make it appear more convincing. Any experienced detective would have known, and these defendants knew or reasonably should have known, that Kerry was not telling the truth.”
SUDDENLY DROPPED THE CHARGES
Sheridan was arrested Nov. 25, 2020, and was held in jail for six weeks. She was still under a cloud, however, until July of this year when the Crown suddenly dropped the charges, citing Kerry’s evidence as unreliable.
The effect was to traumatize her, her children and the rest of her family for two years, the suit said, with social media in particular a venue for people to attack her and her family.
“As a result, Melissa became an outcast in the community in which she had previously enjoyed a sterling reputation,” the suit said.
“Melissa Sheridan sustained serious and permanent injuries, losses and damages including depression, anxiety, physical and emotional trauma, loss of reputation, stigma, and a past, present, and future loss of income and a loss of competitive advantage.”
Police actions were not just incompetent, the suit said, but “flagrantly” violated standards of conduct.
“The plaintiffs state that the conduct of the defendants was unconscionable, wanton, shocking to the conscience, in flagrant breach of their obligations to act in the public interest, and in reckless disregard of the rights of Ms. Sheridan,” the suit said.
It seeks $2 million in general damages, $2 million special damages, $2 million in aggravated, punitive and exemplary damages and $2 million under the Family Law Act.
Defendants include the OPP, Wikwemikong police, specific police officers, the Wikwemikong police services board, OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique and Kerry Burke.