THOMPSON, Man. — A former Mountie will not serve any jail time for his actions during a police chase that ended with the shooting death of a man in northern Manitoba.
Abram Letkeman, 37, was sentenced Friday for criminal negligence causing bodily harm for his driving before the 2015 death of Steven Campbell outside Thompson.
The former constable, who was given a medical discharge from RCMP in December, was found guilty of the driving offences in August but acquitted of manslaughter and other shooting-related charges.
“I am torn,” said Justice Chris Martin. “On the one hand a short period of jail is in the range of a fit sentence but so to is a non-jail sanction.”
Martin said in the end 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.
Campbell’s girlfriend, Lori Flett, was also shot and her pelvis was fractured in a collision with the officer’s cruiser.
In a statement read into court she described how Letkeman’s actions completely changed her life. Not only did Campbell, with whom she has a daughter, die but her face is paralyzed on one side and she is deaf in one ear. She continues to struggle with mobility.
Campbell’s relatives told Letkeman in court that forgiveness was not an option.
“Steven would be alive today if you would have followed policy and not taken matters into your own hands,” said his father, Robert Campbell.
“Shame on you again. I pray this matter haunts you for the rest of your life as it does us.”
The Crown had been seeking three years behind bars.
The trial heard that Letkeman saw a Jeep early on a November morning as bars were closing in the community of about 15,000 people.
Letkeman testified he suspected the driver was impaired and attempted a traffic stop, but it drove away. A toxicology report later showed Campbell had alcohol in his system and was almost 2 1/2 times over the legal limit to drive. There was also a small amount of cocaine in his system.
There were four passengers in Campbell’s vehicle, including Flett.
Letkeman started to pursue the vehicle, but he did not communicate that to his supervisors.
The trial heard that Letkeman made the decision to use his cruiser to hit the back of the Jeep in order to stop it. A use of force expert testified the move was against protocol and training, and was extremely risky.
The Jeep kept moving and ended up on a trail for all-terrain vehicles. Letkeman followed in his cruiser and the Jeep lost control and stopped in some brush.
The trial heard Letkeman’s vehicle then T-boned it.
The officer testified he didn’t wait for backup and walked in front of the Jeep to do a high-risk takedown. He said the Jeep started moving toward him, so he was forced to fire. He also said his foot had been run over so he shot as fast as he could to save his own life.
Crown prosecutors argued that Letkeman had a history of unreasonable responses, in particular when it came to suspected impaired drivers.
They pointed to an incident in 2011 when he was reprimanded by the RCMP after chasing a vehicle at speeds up to 150 km/h while working in Alberta, despite being directed by superiors to discontinue.
They said he had a wanton and reckless disregard for the public, other passengers in the vehicle and Campbell.
Defence lawyer Josh Weinstein said Letkeman was a good officer who now suffers psychological impacts from the traumatic shooting. Weinstein pointed to 120 letters of support submitted to court, many which were from other officers.
He said his client has genuine remorse for what happened, but added that he was doing what he thought was right as a police officer.
Martin said Letkeman’s driving decisions were unwarranted, dangerous and didn’t meet his training as an officer.
“It was truly lost on him that his judgment was wrong and there is good reason for rules and risk assessment that officers must follow,” Martin said.
Letkeman, when given an opportunity to address court, told Campbell’s family he deeply regrets what happened and said he grieves the loss of their son every day.
“I know there is nothing I can say that will take away the pain.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2020.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press