Charges upgraded to manslaughter for Alberta Mounties in shooting death of man in car

Two RCMP officers who were charged in the shooting death of 31-year-old Clayton Crawford at a rest stop near Whitecourt in July 2018 are now facing manslaughter charges.

Charges upgraded against Whitecourt RCMP Cpl. Randy Stenger, Const. Jessica Brown

Clayton Crawford died from multiple gunshot wounds after a confrontation with police at a highway rest stop on July 3, 2018. RCMP remained on scene for hours. ( Dana Illerbrun)

Two RCMP officers who were charged in the shooting death of a 31-year-old man in northern Alberta two years ago are now facing manslaughter charges.

Cpl. Randy Stenger and Const. Jessica Brown of the Whitecourt RCMP detachment were arrested on June 5 and each charged with one count of criminal negligence causing death.

The court registry now says the officers are charged with manslaughter.

Clayton Crawford died from multiple gunshot wounds inside a car after a confrontation with police on July 3, 2018.

Alberta's policing watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), was directed to investigate the shooting on the day it happened.

In a news release Thursday, ASIRT said that shortly after the officers were charged, the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service transferred responsibility for the prosecution to the Ontario Ministry of Attorney General.

"After consultation with the Ontario Crown, on Sept. 3, 2020, a replacement information was sworn jointly charging both officers with the offence of manslaughter," ASIRT said in the release.

"The original information charging both officers with criminal negligence causing death was withdrawn at the request of the Crown."

ASIRT said it would not comment further as the matters remain before the courts.

Confrontation at rest stop

On July 2, 2018, Crawford was in a residence in Valhalla Centre, around 500 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, when unidentified perpetrators attacked the residence and fired on the occupants, ASIRT said. 

While one occupant was injured during the incident, Crawford was able to flee the area in a vehicle. 

ASIRT said the officers were looking for a witness or possible victim in that case when they discovered a man sleeping in the driver's seat of a vehicle parked at a rest stop near Whitecourt.

During a confrontation, the vehicle was "put into motion" and one officer fired a service pistol while the other discharged a carbine rifle, the agency said.

"The vehicle left the rest stop, crossed the highway and entered a ditch a short distance away," said a news release at the time.

The RCMP Emergency Response Team was called in to clear the scene and found Crawford dead in the driver's seat.

ASIRT executive director Susan Hughson told a news conference on June 8 that Crown prosecutors were consulted for their opinion and her team determined charges were warranted.

Hughson said it was the first time in the Alberta agency's history that a police shooting resulting in a death has led to criminal charges against officers.

ASIRT investigates incidents involving Alberta police that result in serious injury or death to any person, as well as serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.

Alberta RCMP confirmed Thursday that both officers were suspended with pay after the initial charges were laid.

Stenger, 43, has 12 years of service with the RCMP and 29-year old Brown has four years, according to the police force.