Fatal police shooting of Steven Campbell justified, but ramming his vehicle was not, judge rules

Const. Abram Letkeman convicted of criminal negligence, acquitted of manslaughter

An RCMP officer was acquitted Aug. 19 of manslaughter and other shooting charges in the Nov. 21, 2015 death of Steven Campbell in Thompson on the grounds that he was legitimately in danger of being seriously hurt or killed by being run over.

RCMP Const. Abram Letkeman was convicted of one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm for two intentional collisions with the Jeep Campbell was driving, the second of which resulted in a broken pelvis and a neck injury for Campbell’s girlfriend Lori Flett, one of four passengers in the vehicle.

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“I’m left with a reasonable doubt that the shooting was not justified,” said Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin in his decision, read before a courtroom packed with family and friends of both Campbell and Letkeman. “The Jeep could have hit him. The result was tragic but a proportionate response. Const. Letkeman is therefore acquitted of the shooting offences.”

Letkeman had also been charged with criminal negligence causing death and recklessly discharging a firearm into a vehicle full of people but was found not guilty because he was a peace officer acting to defend himself from injury or death. Campbell was shot at least nine times by Letkeman, with three shots entering through the driver’s side of the windshield and the remainder being shot through the driver’s side window of the Jeep. 

Martin said he did not believe Letkeman’s testimony that he was attempting to box Campbell’s Jeep in when he struck it on an ATV trail along a Manitoba Hydro right of way south of Princeton Drive. That collision, the second between the two vehicles during a pursuit that lasted less than five minutes, occurred while the Jeep was stationary, an RCMP traffic collision reconstructionist testified during Letkman’s trial in June. Martin said Letkeman hit the Jeep in an attempt to disable it and end the pursuit, as he had earlier at the intersection of Caribou Road and Deerwood Drive. The judge said the impact of the second collision was the cause of Flett’s injuries.

“She wouldn’t have had a broken pelvis or a neck injury but for that crash,” Martin said.

The first collision had also been an unjustified use of force, the judge said, but he characterized the entire pursuit as one fluid connected series of events in choosing to convict Letekman of only one of three driving offences. He was also charged with dangerous driving and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Martin said that Letkeman had made a series of poor policing decisions – “blunders, really” – that led to him being in a position where he felt he had to fire his gun at Campbell because he feared for his life,

“Const. Letkeman does bear fault,” the judge said. “His actions put his life at risk.”

However, Martin said it was Campbell’s decision to shift the Jeep from reverse to drive – he had backed it up following the second collision but the vehicle was found with its transmission in drive – and to drive forward, even if he did not see Letkeman crossing in front of the Jeep on foot or intend to hit him.

“Mr. Campbell made a tragic decision to drive forward,” Martin said. “Mr. Campbell’s action could not have reasonably been anticipated.”

Letkeman’s sentencing for criminal negligence causing bodily harm is scheduled for Dec. 16.

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