Decision to pull trigger in fatal Thompson shooting was consistent with RCMP training, officer's trial hears

A police use of force expert told a Thompson, Man., court Tuesday that Const. Abram Letkeman perceived Steven Campbell as a threat to his life on Nov. 21, 2015 — the night the RCMP officer fatally shot Campbell in the northern Manitoba city.

Const. Abram Letkeman has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter following 2015 death of Steven Campbell, 39

Steven Campbell, right, was shot and killed by an RCMP officer after a short car chase in November 2015. He's seen here with sister Shannon Heck. (Submitted by Shannon Heck)

Const. Abram Letkeman's decision to fire the shots that killed Steven Campbell in 2015 was consistent with RCMP training, a police use of force expert told a Thompson, Man., court on Tuesday. 

Christopher Butler testified his review of the case concluded that Letkeman perceived Campbell, 39, as a threat to his life on Nov. 21, 2015, when the officer ended up standing in front of Campbell's vehicle following a police chase in the northern Manitoba city.

"The officer's perception is that he is imminently at risk of grievous bodily harm or death, the preconditions of AIM — ability, intent and means — are met, and the use of lethal force is therefore consistent with his training and policy," Butler told the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, where Letkeman is on trial on a manslaughter charge in connection with Campbell's death.

But the use of force expert testified that if Letkeman put himself in front of Campbell's vehicle, as the Crown suggests, it was a "tactically disastrous" failure of risk assessment.

"That was a tactical error. That was a decision-making error. It was contrary to accepted police training and policy," he said. "There were other options, other than moving and placing himself in that position."

Multiple applications of force

The judge-only trial, now in its fourth day, previously heard that Campbell, 39, was shot following a police chase on Nov. 21, 2015.

Letkeman's defence team doesn't dispute that the officer shot and killed Campbell while on duty, Crown attorney Christian Vanderhooft told Justice Chris Martin in an agreed statement of facts last week.

Butler, a former inspector with Calgary police, reviewed the case at the request of the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, which investigates serious incidents involving police officers in the province. He testified Tuesday the case was complicated by multiple applications of force, including two during the chase.

A traffic reconstructionist told court last week Letkeman's cruiser hit the Jeep from behind during the chase, and then T-boned the vehicle on an ATV trail. The officer testified the cruiser hit the side of the Jeep hard enough to leave tire markings stamped onto the front of the cruiser.

On Tuesday, Butler told court that if those collisions were intentional, they went against RCMP training. He testified that ramming a vehicle — in this case one with five passengers — is considered a use of lethal force.

"There was no indication in my review that the level of harm facing the officer or anybody else rose to the level that would have warranted that high degree of force," he said.

Shot at least 9 times

Campbell was the father of two girls, who were two and 11 when he died, his family told CBC News in 2015.

The forensic pathologist who did the autopsy told court last week Campbell was shot at least nine times in the arms, chest and jaw. Dr. John Younes, also Manitoba's chief medical examiner, testified he found two bullets still lodged in Campbell's body.

Campbell was the father of two girls, age two and 11 at the time of the shooting. (Submitted by Shannon Heck)

On Tuesday, Butler testified officers are trained to shoot until the threat is no longer lethal.

"I can't break it down to which shot is justified and which shot isn't," he said.

Officers working with Letkeman told court last week they were sent to help him respond to an impaired driver call that became a police chase, ending with the shooting on an ATV trail near Highway 6. Officers told court they found Letkeman limping, and he appeared to be in pain. 

At the time of the shooting, RCMP said the vehicle Letkeman was pursuing accelerated and hit him.

Passengers in the vehicle with Campbell, however, told court the only collision that took place was when the police cruiser rammed into the side of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Campbell was driving.

Accused expected to testify Wednesday

Letkeman is expected to testify Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.

He 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 pleaded not guilty to all the charges on June 17, the first day of his trial. He's being represented by defence attorney Joshua Weinstein.

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

Letkeman's trial is expected to conclude this week.