Court of Appeal rules Mountie to avoid jail for police chase before fatal shooting

WINNIPEG — A former Mountie has avoided jail time after Crown prosecutors appealed a sentence for his actions during a police chase that ended with the shooting death of a man in northern Manitoba.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal imposed a three-month sentence for Abram Letkeman but stayed an order that he spend any time behind bars.

The appeal ruling said a jail sentence “would have had an important purpose in deterring other police officers from overreaching the bounds of their authority and venturing into criminal conduct — and in loudly denouncing such conduct.”

Even so, two of the three Appeal Court judges found the former Mountie still did not need to go to jail.

A lower court earlier ruled Letkeman would not have to serve jail time for the conviction of criminal negligence causing bodily harm related to his driving before the 2015 death of Steven Campbell outside Thompson. He was acquitted of manslaughter and other shooting-related charges.

The trial heard that Letkeman saw a Jeep early on a November morning as bars were closing in the northern community of about 15,000 people.

Letkeman testified he suspected the driver was impaired and attempted a traffic stop, but the Jeep drove away. He started to pursue the vehicle being driven by Campbell. There were also four passengers, including Campbell’s girlfriend.

Court heard the former Mountie used his cruiser to hit the back of the Jeep to stop it. A use of force expert testified at trial that the move was against protocol and training, and was extremely risky.

Letkeman continued to follow the vehicle on to a trail for all-terrain vehicles. He then used his police vehicle to T-bone the Jeep.

The officer testified he didn’t wait for backup and walked in front of the Jeep. He told court the vehicle began to move toward him, so he fired his weapon.

Campbell, 39, was hit at least nine times. His girlfriend was also hit and court heard she suffers from severe, lifelong injuries.

Justice Chris Martin, who oversaw the trial, said in his decision he was torn about whether Letkeman should be incarcerated. He ruled there would be no benefit to putting the former officer behind bars and sentenced Letkeman to three years probation, 240 hours of community service and fined him $10,000.

The Court of Appeal decision, delivered last week, found Martin made an error in not sending the Mountie to jail.

“A custodial sentence is required in order to address the accused’s misconduct, which seriously undermines the bond that should exist between the public and the police,” the decision said.

But considering Letkeman had paid the fine and the time it took for the appeal hearing, two of the three judges decided against requiring the former Mountie to go to jail now.

Justice William Burnett, who differed from colleagues in a dissenting ruling, said the “the trial judge’s approach completely misses the point.” He said the former officer should have been incarcerated.

“Public confidence requires that the community know that police officers who commit crimes using excessive force will be dealt with harshly by the courts,” Burnett wrote.

He said it was inconceivable that a civilian would receive such a lenient sentence for something similar. He added that a fine was never a fit sentence.

Burnett said Letkeman should have faced 36 months in jail, reduced by six months for community service.

Campbell’s mother, Shirley Huber, said her son was so much more than his final moments. She thinks jail would have been appropriate since Letkeman’s actions contributed to his death and the significant injury of other people.

“He took someone’s life needlessly and, if he can sleep peacefully at night knowing that, he’s not much of a human being,” Huber said in an online message. “I hope that’s not his case.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2021.

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