Mountie on trial in Thompson says he shot driver after chase because he was fighting for his life

RCMP Const. Abram Letkeman, on trial in Thompson for manslaughter and other charges in the fatal November 2015 shooting of 39-year-old Steven Campbell, took the stand in his own defence June 26, testifying that he thought he was going to die when he opened fire.

Letkeman does not dispute that he fired the shots that killed Campbell but says that the Jeep Campbell was driving had accelerated towards him and run over his foot as he crossed in front of it trying to get to the driver’s side door and arrest Campbell.

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“I was terrified,” Letkeman said as he tried to control his emotions. “I believed that he was going to drive over me and that he would kill me.”

Letkeman said he fired two shots “as fast as I could” and then paused, before letting loose a second volley. “I began to fire at the vehicle.”

He shot Campbell at least nine times, three bullets going through the windshield on the driver’s side and the rest through the driver’s side window before and after he said the vehicle ran over his foot and he eventually lost his balance and fell.

Under cross-examination, Letkeman admitted that by the time he stopped firing, he was beside the Jeep Grand Cherokee Campbell was driving and that no other part of the vehicle hit him. He also said he could have made different choices at various points during his pursuit of Campbell, which began near the Mystery Lake Hotel.

“I know that I didn’t act perfectly,” Letkeman said.

The pursuit began when Letkeman, having returned to the detachment to help lodge prisoners after a bar fight at Trappers’ Tavern, saw the Jeep turn off Selkirk Avenue to head south on Cree Road. He was in the RCMP detachment parking lot at the time and said that the Jeep fishtailed back and forth after taking the turn too fast, then spun out and ended up facing the wrong direction in the southbound lane. When he approached it in his patrol car, the driver went into the Mystery Lake Hotel parking lot and around the hotel towards Trappers’ Tavern before driving out of the parking lot over the curb and onto Caribou Road. When Campbell was turning right onto Deerwood Drive, Letkeman made the decision to hit the rear of the Jeep and spin it around. Campbell did not stop, but proceeded east to Cree Road and then south past Thompson Drive, left onto Elder Avenue and then right onto Centennial Drive, looping around before taking two rights to end up heading east on Thompson Drive. Letkeman chased Campbell as he drove past Mystery Lake Road and then turned right onto Princeton Drive, going through a gate at a construction site and onto an ATV trail heading toward the road that leads to Vale.

Radio transcripts show that Letkeman observed the Jeep fishtailing back and forth and predicted that the driver would lose control before the vehicle ended up with its front end in the bush on the right side of the ATV trail. Letkeman said he tried to drive behind the Jeep to box it in and prevent it from backing up, but that it started reversing as he approached it and ended up in his path, at which point he t-boned it near the back of the rear passenger door. The impact spun the Jeep around and it backed up towards the left side of the trail. At that point, Letkeman got out of his vehicle and crossed in front of the Jeep on foot with his gun drawn, saying that he heard the engine revving and saw the vehicle coming toward him from about four to six feet away before opening fire.

Letkeman admitted that he did not inform the dispatcher that he had hit the vehicle he was chasing at the intersection of Deerwood and Caribou and that it wasn’t until the third time that he was asked if he was pursuing it that he responded “10-4” to indicate that he was.  He also testified during cross-examination that he had not asked for backup until after he had shot Campbell but that he was aware that other officers were on the way to the scene. Asked if it would have been better to not exit his vehicle and attempt to arrest Campbell but to wait for other officers to arrive, Letkeman said that would have been a good option.

“It would have been safer for me in that moment,” Letkeman said.

Letkeman’s trial is expected to wrap up June 27 with one more witness possibly testifying followed by the Crown and defence closing arguments. A verdict will not likely be pronounced until later in the summer.

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