Former Thompson RCMP constable Abram Letkeman received three years probation, 240 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine at a Jan. 17 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 he drove the Jeep 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.
Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin also prohibited Letkeman from driving for 12 months and specified that his community hours, which must be completed in the next 18 months, could not be performed at his church. Letkeman was described by friends and family in letters of support as a devoted Christian.
“I am torn,” said Martin just before delivering the sentence to a standing-room-only audience in the courtroom, many of them RCMP officers.
“All of this was senseless,” Martin had said moments earlier, characterizing Letkeman as a good man at his core whose zeal in getting impaired drivers off the road “created a blind spot in his otherwise good judgment.”
One of Letkeman’s brothers and one of his sisters were killed in car accidents four years apart when he was a teenager.
The judge also said that Letekman’s RCMP career, which began in 2010 and ended recently when he received a medical discharge, though his conviction would have resulted in termination regardless, would serve mainly as a cautionary tale to other officers of what not to do and the importance of following policies and rules.
“If they were followed, we wouldn’t be here,” Martin said.
In his August 19 verdict, Martin said Letkeman twice intentionally hit the Jeep Campbell was driving with his police cruiser, first at the intersection of Caribou Road and Deerwood Drive and then again on a Manitoba Hydro right-of-way used as an ATV trail at the south end of Princeton Drive. That impact to the side of the Jeep resulted in Campbell’s girlfriend Lori Flett suffering a broken pelvis and injuring her neck. She was also hit by a bullet fragment a few moments later when Letkeman, fearing that Campbell would run him over, shot the 39-year-old man at least nine times. Martin said when pronouncing his verdict that Letkeman had made a series of blunders during the pursuit of Campbell, which began because Letkeman suspected he was driving impaired, though ultimately the shooting was justified because Letkeman was legitimately in danger of being killed or seriously wounded.
Letkeman, who transferred to the Portage La Prairie RCMP detachment after the shooting but before being suspended when charges were laid and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, was previously informally disciplined while serving in Sundre, Alberta for not ending a pursuit of a suspected impaired driver when ordered to. That 2011 incident ended with the driver he had been pursuing crashing, resulting in injuries to the vehicle's occupants.
The former RCMP officer addressed Campbell’s family members and Flett near the conclusion of his defence lawyers’ sentencing submissions.
“I deeply regret what happened,” he said to Campbell’s family. “I do not think for a moment that I understand your pain.”
“You did nothing that warranted this trauma in your life,” he told Flett. “In no way did I intend you harm.”
Court heard during Letkeman’s trial that Flett and others in the vehicle were urging Campbell to stop during the pursuit, which lasted about four-and-a-half minutes.
“You are a vigilante who satisfies yourself,” said Steven’s father Robert Campbell during a victim impact statement he read to the court himself. “Shame on you. You can not imagine the hole you put in our hearts.”
Flett’s statement, read by Crown counsel Christian Vanderhooft, noted that she gets anxious and scared when she hears sirens or sees police cars and that she suffers pains in her pelvis when she stands for long periods.
“I can’t take my kids for walks,” the statement said.
The Crown had been seeking a sentence of three years in prison for Letkeman, while the defence argued for a suspended sentence.
Martin noted that in both the Thopmpson incident and the one in Alberta, Letkeman contributed to motor vehicle injuries, rather than preventing them.
“In trying to protect the public … Const. Letkeman caused the very harm he was trying to stop.”