Hamilton

Officer made '20 minutes of mistakes' before Binbrook crash, says judge in sentencing

An OPP officer, who hit speeds in excess of 150 km/h while pursuing a robbery suspect who crashed into another vehicle, made "20 minutes of mistakes," according to the judge who he handed her a conditional sentence.

Defence lawyer says Lauren Cheesman is a 'passionate and dedicated police officer'

OPP officer Lauren Cheeseman received a conditional sentence Tuesday. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

An OPP officer who hit speeds in excess of 150 km/h while pursuing a robbery suspect who crashed into another vehicle, made "20 minutes of mistakes," according to the judge who handed her a conditional sentence.

Ontario Court of Justice judge Tony Leitch sentenced Lauren Cheeseman to 18 months of probation Tuesday, including 150 hours of community service, after she pleaded guilty to a charge of mischief endangering life.

The decision means Cheeseman will not have a criminal record and can continue her career as a police officer as long as she completes the conditions.

Describing the officer as an "exemplary person in every way", Leitch said despite the fact she was trying to protect the public, Cheeseman did hit "highly dangerous speeds" during the 2015 pursuit.

"She was trying to help apprehend a dangerous criminal," he said, reading from a written decision. "She made 20 minutes of bad decisions that fortunately did not result in serious consequences."

Officer pleaded guilty to mischief endangering life

Cheeseman was charged after an investigation by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) into the collision that happened after she started tailing a 29-year-old suspect in December 2015.

The pursuit brought them to Binbrook where the SIU said police were investigating a fatal collision involving a pedestrian and had closed the road.

That's when the vehicle that was being followed by the officer crashed into another vehicle, which had been turned around by the road closure, according to the SIU.

A 58-year-old man who was driving and a 17-year-old girl were both taken to hospital after the crash, with the driver suffering a broken collarbone.

The SIU says the robbery suspect was arrested at the scene.

On Tuesday Leitch said that during submissions, the Crown conceded the suspect would have hit the other vehicle "whether [Cheesman] drove properly or drove as she did."

Following the investigation, the officer was originally charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Instead, she pleaded guilty in January to the lesser mischief charge.

Lawyer says client was trying to protect the public

Crown prosecutor Katie Doherty was seeking conviction and a $3,000 fine, which would leave Cheeseman with a criminal record, something the lawyer said was important for deterrence.

During the trial she pointed out people would have trouble seeing the officer's cruiser because she was driving quickly through areas with hidden driveways. The lawyer also noted even though Cheeseman slowed down for an intersection, she was still doing almost double the speed limit when she went through it.

Defence lawyer David Butt was asking for an absolute discharge.

He previously argued that while speeds around the 150-170 km/h mark might come as a shock to the public, police are trained to drive quickly.

He also said she stayed in contact with the OPP communications centre and slowed down to around 118 km/h when encountering an intersection, something he pointed to as evidence she was paying attention to safety.

After the judge's ruling, Butt said his client was relieved the court process was finally over.

Defence lawyer David Butt says his client is focused on finishing her community service as quickly as possible. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

"This has been a very long ordeal and having it over so she can get on with her life is critically important." he said.

The conditional discharge means it's possible the OPP could look at what happened to see if any internal disciplinary measures are necessary," according to Butt.

The lawyer described Cheesman as a "passionate and dedicated police officer" who found the experience of being the subject of criminal prosecution "intensely emotional."

The judge's decision "embodies the wisdom of Solomon," he added. 

"It didn't give everything to one side or the other."

Willing to lay down her life

Cheeseman, who was joined by her parents and supporters in court, did not comment after the decision.

Her parents said they're proud of her.

Court previously heard Cheeseman is now working as an OPP officer in a different part of the province.

During her last appearance she read a statement saying before becoming a police officer she had served as a soldier and was willing to lay down her life for her country.

"I have lived my life dedicated to bettering the lives and care for the wellbeing of others," she said through tears.

"I wish nothing more than for the people in these communities to feel safe, supported and cared for, no different than I'd want for my own family."

Butt said his client's focus is now on completing her community service as quickly as possible.