Manitoba’s Court of Appeal found that the sentence given to a Thompson RCMP officer who twice rammed a suspected impaired driver during a 2015 pursuit that ended with a fatal shooting was not sufficient punishment for his actions.
However, in a majority decision, the appeals court decided that the appropriate sentence – three months’ incarceration combined with the community service Abram Letkeman already completed and the fine he has paid – would be stayed as there was no benefit to him serving jail time more than a year after he was sentenced and more than five years since the incident occurred.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice William Burnett said that the new sentence imposed by the court was still inadequate and that the offence warranted three years in prison – the sentence sought by the Crown, which appealed the initial sentence soon after the trial – with six months’ credit for community service already performed.
Letkeman received three years probation, 240 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine at a January 2020 sentencing hearing in Thompson for his conviction of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
The conviction stemmed from a Nov. 21, 2015 incident when Letkeman twice hit a Jeep being driven by Steven Campbell with his police cruiser before exiting the vehicle and fatally shooting Campbell as the Jeep came towards him.
Letkeman was found not guilty of manslaughter and other charges related to Campbell’s shooting death after a trial in Thompson in June 2019.
The former Mountie, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder which resulted in his being dismissed from the force, was also prohibited from driving for one year.
In a majority decision issued July 15, Justice Karen Simonsen wrote that Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Chris Martin imposed a “largely rehabilitative sentence” that was inconsistent with the fundamental principles of sentencing. She concluded that a fit sentence would be 10 months in prison, reduced to three because Letkeman has already paid the fine and completed all the community service required and more. She also set aside the probation order because she sees no need for rehabilitation.
Noting that a prison stay would delay Letkeman’s mental health treatment and exacerbate his symptoms and that he would have been released from custody months ago if an appropriate sentence had been imposed after conviction, Simonsen permanently stayed the custodial portion of the sentence, meanign Letkeman won't serve the time.
Burnett said the initial sentence given to Letkeman must have been incomprehensible to the passenger he injured the second time he hit the Jeep, which was statinary at the time, the community and to Manitoba in general. He also noted that sentences given to police officers are usually harsher than those imposed on civilians who committed similar crimes.
“It is inconceivable that a civilian offender in similar circumstances would receive such a lenient sentence,” he wrote.
Burnett also dismissed the notion that paying the fine should be a factor to reduce the length of incarceration and said the stay was inappropriate in this case.