Manitoba

A 'lose-lose' situation: Family, RCMP officer await decision in trial for fatal 2015 shooting

The mother of a Manitoba man killed in a 2015 police shooting said the trial for the officer charged is a "lose-lose" situation for both of the families involved.

Const. Abram Letkeman has pleaded not guilty in the death of Steven Campbell, 39

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

The mother of a Manitoba man killed in a 2015 police shooting said the trial for the officer charged is a "lose-lose" situation for both of the families involved.

"It's the hardest thing I'll ever have to go through in my life," Shirley Huber said Thursday, the final day of the trial for Const. Abram Letkeman, 37.

Letkeman was charged with manslaughter in the death of Huber's son, Steven Campbell.

Justice Chris Martin heard closing arguments in the Thursday, after Letkeman pleaded not guilty last week.

Huber was in Thompson for the first week of the six-day trial, but returned to Alberta for the second week.

"You lose a child and you can't replace that child," she said. "It was very hard on all of us, losing him. He was a good man."

Letkeman's defence team doesn't dispute that the officer shot and killed Campbell while on duty, the court heard in an agreed statement of facts when the trial started last week.

The judge-only Court of Queen's Bench trial heard that Campbell, 39, was shot following a police chase in Thompson.

That pursuit began when Letkeman, suspecting impaired driving, attempted to pull over the Jeep driven by Campbell shortly after 2 a.m. on Nov. 21, 2015.

In his testimony, Letkeman told court the chase took the vehicles onto an ATV trail, where the vehicles collided and he got out of his cruiser. The officer testified he pulled the trigger because Campbell's vehicle accelerated toward him and he feared for his life.

The Crown, however, argued Letkeman was negligent and made several dangerous and unreasonable breaches of RCMP policy throughout the encounter, which ultimately put him in a position where his life was at risk.

Crown attorney Christian Vanderhooft argued Letkeman could have run away from the Jeep instead of firing into it, and should have disengaged long before he was in that position.

"This should never have happened," Vanderhooft said. "Nobody in that vehicle was armed. It should've stopped a long time before [they] got on the trail."

Rare argument, judge says

Justice Martin told court the Crown's argument that Letkeman created the danger is a rare one in the Canadian legal landscape, and may be unprecedented as far as he's aware.

Defence lawyers Joshua Weinstein and Lisa LaBossiere told court it wouldn't be right to find Letkeman guilty for shooting to protect his own life, even if he made errors beforehand.

To do so would put a chilling effect on other police officers, LaBossiere argued, who can't be held to a standard of perfection.

But Vanderhooft argued Letkeman was so negligent he was no longer acting within the line of duty.

Court heard the officer used his cruiser to intentionally hit Campbell's Jeep, which had five occupants, from behind during the chase, and didn't report that back to his shift supervisor.

Letkeman testified that was an effort to halt the Jeep and end the chase safely, but said he had no training to attempt such a manoeuvre.

The officer also testified that his cruiser unintentionally T-boned the Jeep on the ATV trail, while he was trying to get behind the stationary vehicle to block it from driving on. Vanderhooft, however, argued both of those moves, and the decision to then approach the Jeep alone, escalated the risk to the public and the people in the Jeep.

Loving father, son

Campbell was the father of two girls, who were two and 11 when he died. Huber said his death has been hard for his elder daughter, and his younger daughter 

Huber said Thursday her son would give the shirt off his back to help people. She recalled spending time in Thompson with him, and seeing how people came up to pay him back cigarettes or cash he'd loaned them when they needed it.

"When he was our son and brother and father, he was the best," she said.

Shirley Huber, top left, says her son Steven Campbell, far right, was a loving father to his two daughters. (Submitted by Shirley Huber)

"The love and the tenderness that he showed his daughters was unbelievable. He was a very good, doting, loving father. And as my son, he was a very loving son."

Huber said she's glad the trial is over.

Justice Martin is set to give his decision on Aug. 19 in Thompson.