RCMP officer on trial for manslaughter made ‘tactically disastrous’ decision to get out of vehicle

A use of force expert called by the Crown in the manslaughter trial of RCMP Const. Abram Letkeman, who killed Steven Campbell in November 2015, said that Letkeman’s decision to get out of his car and cross in front of the vehicle he had been pursing was a violation of standard law enforcement tactics.

“You always want to leave yourself an out,” said Chris Butler, who spent 28 years as a member of the Calgary Police Service and now provides consultation and training on use of force and other topics through his company Raptor Protection & Safety Services. Since Campbell had already fled after an attempted traffic stop and being intentionally hit by Letkeman’s patrol car, Butler said it was “very likely this guy’s going to hit the gas and go again.”

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Butler was contracted by the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU), which investigates actions of on- and off-duty police officers in the province, to analyze this incident and provide an opinion if the Letkeman’s actions and use of force were consistent with RCMP policy and training.

Butler’s report concluded that Letkeman’s first use of force  – when he hit the Jeep Grand Cherokee Campbell was driving from behind at the Intersection of Caribou Road and Deerwood Drive in an attempt to spin it and immobilize him – was not consistent with RCMP training and policy because it had uncontrollable outcomes and the potential to cause serious injury and the offence of impaired driving did not warrant that level of intervention.

The second use of force, when Letkeman hit the passenger side of the Grand Cherokee with the bumper of his patrol car, was not consistent with RCMP training or policy if it was intentional, Butler said.

Opening fire on Campbell when he was on foot in front of the vehicle was consistent with RCMP training and policy if Letkeman felt he was at risk of serious injury or death.

Under cross-examination, Butler agreed that the RCMP’s pursuit policy at the time of Campbell’s fatal shooting did not specifically prohibit using a police vehicle to immobilize a vehicle being pursued. He also agreed that boxing in a vehicle is an acceptable tactic. Asked if knowing that the second collision was accidental would change his assessment of it, Butler said that it would. He also gave testimony that only about 30 per cent of shots fired in officer-involved shootings hit their target, that police officers are trained to shoot until a threat is no longer lethal and that someone in front of a vehicle four to six feet away would have about half-a-second to get out of its way if it was physically possible to move.

Butler was the last witness called by the Crown and Letkeman’s trial, which also includes charges for criminal negligence causing death and injury and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm, is scheduled to conclude June 27.

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