When Orlando Bowen was exonerated of cocaine possession and assaulting two police officers, he returned home to his family, thankful to be able to put out of his mind the prospect of a lengthy jail sentence.

But for years after his acquittal of those serious charges in 2005, the onetime CFL player’s run-in with police in 2004 continued to give him nightmares.

He struggled to move on and find closure.

Now, more than a decade later, Bowen’s story is a testament to the healing power of forgiveness.

The 42-year-old runs a charity called One Voice, One Team that runs leadership programs for youth, helps to build homes for Habitat for Humanity and helps to feed and care for the less fortunate.

“The reason I breathe is to try to help people understand their value and the fact that they could overcome whatever challenges they may face,” Bowen says.

Bowen played college football at Northern Illinois University before signing in 2000 with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL. After three years with the Argos and one season with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Bowen signed a contract extension with Hamilton.

Late in the evening on March 26, 2004, Bowen was making plans to celebrate his new contract.

As he was sitting in his vehicle in a Mississauga, Ont., parking lot, waiting for his friends, he was confronted by two burly men who asked Bowen if he had any drugs. After Bowen dismissed the request, the two men identified themselves as Peel Regional police officers, pulled him away from his vehicle, and claimed they had discovered a bag of cocaine in his possession.

Photos taken soon after the incident showed Bowen bruised and battered. His CFL career was over in a flash.

Orlando Bowen injury and crime scene photos

A March 27, 2004 photo showing Orlando Bowen's head injuries
A March 27, 2004 photo showing Orlando Bowen's head injuries
A March 27, 2004 photo showing Orlando Bowen's facial injuries
A March 27, 2004 crime scene photo showing blood on the rear windshield of a car
A March 27, 2004 crime scene photo showing blood on pavement
An April 3, 2004 photo of Orlando Bowen's hands
An April 3, 2004 photo showing Orlando Bowen's facial injuries

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Charged with assault with intent to resist arrest and possession of cocaine, Bowen would not find any peace until an Ontario judge dismissed the charges against him, saying that the officers’ stories about the arrest were riddled with inconsistencies.

The Crown’s case was all but destroyed when one of the two arresting officers, then-Const. Sheldon Cook, was arrested by the RCMP for stealing what he thought was cocaine from police custody.

After intercepting a Peruvian shipment of cocaine, the RCMP had replaced the packages of cocaine with a substance that appeared to be the illegal drug, outfitted those packages with tracking devices and packed them into crates of mangoes.

Cook, part of a team of Peel officers who had seized the shipment after it arrived in Canada, apparently took the bait, stole what he believed was cocaine and was then arrested and charged by the RCMP.

Cook’s credibility was ruined, but even by the merits of the evidence presented in Bowen’s case, Justice Ford Clements declared that the testimony of both officers was “incredible” and “unworthy of belief.”

Photo exhibit of Sheldon Cook

A 2010 file photo of Sheldon Cook (Getty Images)

Bowen was a free man, but he had difficulty moving on.

Perhaps forgiving the officers would help Bowen find closure.

So in March 2014, Bowen released a letter he wrote to the two officers.

“This may sound very strange but in this game of life, we are on the same team,” Bowen wrote. “I want to courageously express the fact that I am thankful, grateful and forever in debt to you for this experience, as it has forever changed my life. It has made me a better father, husband, brother, son and a better human being.”

“I love you guys unconditionally, wholeheartedly and I embrace you with every fibre of my being, with strength that is much greater than anything I could personally bring to the table, divine strength….I pray that you feel love like you have never felt before, love deeper than you thought were possible. I pray for your strength to deal with your pain. Please know that you are forgiven 100% and loved 99% (I’m working on that last 1 percent today). We, through this experience, have a tremendous opportunity to change lives and I am grateful for that and embrace that.”

Bowen never heard back from either Cook or his partner, Grant Gervais.

Cook was convicted of multiple criminal charges including attempt to possess an illegal substance (cocaine) for the purpose of trafficking and was sentenced to 5 years and 8 months in prison. While Cook resigned from the Peel Police, Gervais remains on the force. He is now a sergeant.

Photo exhibit of Grant Gervais

Photo exhibit of Grant Gervais facial injury
Photo exhibit of Grant Gervais hand injury
Photo exhibit of Grant Gervais hand injury
Photo exhibit of Grant Gervais facial injury
Photo exhibit of Grant Gervais facial injury

Peel Police spokesman Josh Colley said the police respect the judge’s ruling to acquit Bowen. However, the police maintain the arrest was legitimate, Colley said

“Obviously Mr. Bowen suffered some injuries during that arrest but also the officers suffered injury as well,” Colley said. “The fact is the officers went in to make an arrest. There was resistance, there was a struggle and as a result everyone was injured.”

Cook said in a brief interview that he was aware of Bowen’s letter of forgiveness.

“I think that’s pretty big of him,” Cook said. “You know, I appreciate that. And you know I’ve forgiven him as well.”

Cook would not elaborate.

Bowen says he has moved on and does not feel anger towards the officers. In 2014 he received the Harry Jerome Award for community service.

W5’s documentary ‘Personal Foul’ airs this Saturday at 7pm on CTV, 10pm on CTV2, and 7pm Sunday on CTV NewsChannel. It will be posted on W5.CTVNews.ca and the Official W5 YouTube channel on Sunday.