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Tragic anniversary: Remembering Const. Joe MacDonald 24 years after his murder

The man who investigated the killing, former police chief Alex McCauley, says the murder hit the city 'like a hammer'
Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 will mark 24 years to the day since the murder of Sudbury Police constable Joe MacDonald. (File)

Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 will mark 24 years to the day since the murder of Sudbury Police constable Joe MacDonald.

What was supposed to be a routine traffic stop for a suspected impaired driver was the last act of duty that MacDonald would undertake. 

Inside that vehicle were Clinton Suzack and Peter Pennett. Suzack was a violent offender who recently had been released on parole. Suzack and Pennett, who were later found to be in possession of illegal drugs, exited the vehicle and a violent physical battle ensued, resulting in the exchange of gunfire.

MacDonald was fatally shot, his empty service revolver later found laying beside him. 

This was all in 1993, when MacDonald, just 29-years-old at the time with five years of police service to his name.

Retired Sudbury police chief Alex McCauley was an inspector with the service's criminal investigations division (CID) at the time, and was the lead investigator in MacDonald's murder. McCauley would go on to serve as chief from 1994-2002.

Though it has been nearly 24 years since that fateful day in October, McCauley says the effects are still felt in the community.

"We hadn't lost an officer in the line of duty since ... and to lose one in the fashion that we did, it was just horrific by all standards," said McCauley. "It hit everyone on the police force and around the community like a hammer."

When speaking about MacDonald, McCauley says he was a good officer and was well-liked by his peers and members of the community.

"Joe was a really good person, he was well-liked, always happy-go-lucky, he was a great community officer and an all around good person," said McCauley.

On Sept. 17 of this year, Peter Pennett was denied temporary absence from jail (, where he is serving a life sentence.

"As far as I'm concerned neither of them (Pennett or Suzack) should see the light of day," said McCauley. "I'm pleased that the parole board made this decision and the sentence should be followed. The MacDonald family has had no respite from this tragedy and this is something they're going to carry with them for the rest of their lives."

While McCauley and many others who worked with and knew Joe have retired or moved to other jurisdictions, the retired chief says that when the anniversary of a tragic event such as MacDonald's murder comes around, it's a chance to reflect and remember the job that police officers have to do every day.

"It's more than just a reminder, I think everyone knows that police officers face danger every day, but the anticipation is that they're going to come home safe," said McCauley.

"Police as a whole have a day of remembrance, but on a local level this serves to remind everyone what these men and women face on a daily basis."