Manitoba

RCMP witness says fellow Mountie 'looked scared' after fatal 2015 police shooting

Police officers working in Thompson, Man., the night of a fatal police shooting in 2015 told court Tuesday they went to support a colleague during what appeared to be a standard impaired driver call, before the incident turned deadly.

Const. Abram Letkeman pleaded not guilty to manslaughter following the death of Steven Campbell, 39

Steven Campbell was shot and killed by police in 2015 after a traffic stop. The father of two was 39 years old. (Submitted by Shannon Heck)

Police officers working in Thompson, Man., the night of a fatal police shooting in 2015 told court Tuesday they went to support a colleague during what appeared to be a standard impaired driver call, before the incident turned deadly.

Six officers who worked with Const. Abram Letkeman on Nov. 21, 2015, testified in a Thompson court Tuesday on the second day of Letkeman's trial for manslaughter in the death of Steven Campbell, 39.

Const. Derek Dunford told court he was sent with another officer, Const. Gregory Oke, to support Letkeman around 2 a.m. that day. He testified events turned surreal after he heard Letkeman say over the radio shots had been fired, moments before Dunford and Oke arrived at the scene.

"I didn't think anything was out of the ordinary at the time," Dunford said in court in the city about 650 kilometres north of Winnipeg. "We didn't predict what was going to happen."

Letkeman's defence team doesn't dispute that the officer shot and killed Campbell while on duty, Crown attorney Christian Vanderhooft told the Court of Queen's Bench in an agreed statement of facts Monday.

Police said at the time of the shooting that Campbell had been driving erratically when officers pulled him over. As an officer approached the vehicle, Campbell accelerated and hit him, police said.

On Monday, court heard from the four people who were in the vehicle with Campbell. Siblings Floyd, Lori and Marty Flett, and Marty's girlfriend Ranita Richard, testified the only collision was when the police cruiser hit the Jeep Grand Cherokee Campbell was driving, a little ways down an ATV trail they'd driven to during the chase.

Dunford told court Tuesday when he arrived at the scene, he saw Letkeman hopping on one foot.

"Abe is a large person, a strong person. To see him how he was, it was very surreal," Dunford said. "He looked scared, [like he was] in pain."

'We didn't communicate … like we should have'

Dunford testified when he went to the Jeep, he found Campbell's body in the driver's seat. He said he went to the passenger side and found the front passenger door damaged so that he couldn't pry it open.

He and another officer at the scene, Const. Gregory Oke, testified the Thompson RCMP detachment had a manpower shortage at the time. They testified they'd used a police radio to tell him they were on their way, but Oke said it's possible Letkeman didn't hear it if he was talking on the radio, too.

Looking back on the incident, Dunford told court he remembers saying in a statement to Manitoba's Independent Investigation Unit — which investigates serious incidents involving police — he felt he and Oke should have done more to let Letkeman know they were on their way.

"We didn't communicate on the radio like we should have," he said.

Campbell's family attended the trial in Thompson. Here, Campbell, right, is seen with sister Shannon Heck. (Submitted by Shannon Heck)

On Tuesday, court heard a recording of RCMP radio communications that night. A man's voice could be heard reporting an impaired driver, then giving updates on his location as he pursued the vehicle. Later, he's heard shouting "shots fired" twice, before telling others they needed to get to the scene.

Cpl. Mike Lewis, then a constable, told court he believed he was heading to an active shooter situation after hearing the radio transmission.

Letkeman was arrested on March 1, 2017. In addition to manslaughter, he was charged with criminal negligence causing death, reckless discharge of a firearm, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

He's being represented by defence attorney Joshua Weinstein in the trial before Justice Chris Martin. 

Staffing issues at RCMP detachment

All six officers who testified Tuesday told court the Thompson RCMP detachment was short on staff at the time of the shooting.

On Monday, the first day of the trial, court heard from passengers in the Jeep the group had been out to celebrate Lori Flett's birthday. Flett, Campbell's girlfriend and the mother of one of his daughters, told court they'd all been drinking and she'd been using cocaine.

She said she remembered the police cruiser ramming into the side of the vehicle, and shortly later being hit in the side of her head with pieces of bullet.

Steven Campbell and Lori Flett were together at the time of the shooting in 2015. Flett, right, was injured in the incident. (Lori Flett/Facebook)

All four people in the Jeep testified Monday nobody in the vehicle had any weapons that night.

Campbell was the father of two girls, who were two and 11 when he died, his family told CBC News in 2015. Family members wearing T-shirts reading "Remembering Steven" were in court Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, RCMP forensic investigators testified they found 12 bullet casings in the snow around the Jeep and Letkeman's cruiser after the shooting. They testified there were three holes that appeared to be bullet holes in the windshield of the Jeep and the driver's-side window was gone.

RCMP spokesperson Paul Manaigre told CBC Letkeman has been suspended with pay since March 2017.

Letkeman's trial is scheduled to take two weeks.