Manitoba

Victim's friends testify as manslaughter trial begins for Mountie charged in 2015 Thompson shooting

A police cruiser rammed into the side of a vehicle before an officer started firing at it, killing one of the five people inside, court heard Monday during a trial for an officer charged in a 2015 police shooting.

Const. Abram Letkeman was charged in 2017 following the death of Steven Campbell, 39

Steven Campbell was shot and killed in a police shooting in 2015. He's seen here with his sister, Shannon Heck. (Submitted by Shannon Heck)

A police cruiser rammed into the side of a vehicle before an officer started firing at it, killing one of the five people inside, court heard Monday during a trial for an officer charged in a 2015 police shooting.

Friends of Steven Campbell, 39, who were with him in the Jeep Grand Cherokee when he died on Nov. 21, 2015, testified Campbell had been driving when a police chase started. The chase ended with the shooting on an ATV trail in Thompson, Man.

"He got shot, and he died on my legs," Floyd Flett told court.

Floyd Flett was one of four witnesses to the shooting who testified in the northern Manitoba city Monday on the first day of the manslaughter trial for RCMP Const. Abram Letkeman, charged in Campbell's death.

Letkeman pleaded not guilty Monday morning to manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and criminal negligence causing death, among other charges, in connection with Campbell's death.

Letkeman's defence team doesn't dispute that the officer shot and killed Campbell while on duty in the small city about 650 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Crown attorney Christian Vanderhooft told the Court of Queen's Bench in an agreed statement of facts.

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

Court heard a different story Monday 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.

Witness critically injured in shooting

Letkeman is being represented by defence attorney Joshua Weinstein in the trial before Justice Chris Martin.

Lori Flett, Campbell's girlfriend and mother of one of his daughters, told court the group had been out celebrating her birthday. She testified they'd all been drinking and she'd been using cocaine. She told court police tried to pull them over after they left a bar.

That led to a chase that took them down an ATV trail near Highway 6, where the shooting took place.

In a quiet voice, she told court she remembers the cruiser hitting the Jeep and, shortly after, being hit in the side of the head with pieces of a bullet.

Campbell was a father of two young girls, who were 2 and 11 when he died. (Submitted by Shannon Heck)

She needed open skull surgery, eyelid surgery, skin grafts and muscles and nerves moved from her leg to her face as a result of the shooting, she told court. She testified she continues to have problems with her memory.

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

"I don't know why we were being shot at when the vehicle was completely stopped and [it was] smoking," Ranita Richard told court.

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" lined the front row of the courtroom Monday.

Bullet casings found in snow

RCMP forensic identification officers told court Monday that after Campbell was shot, they found the green Jeep stopped across an ATV trail near Highway 6, with the keys in the ignition and the transmission in drive. What looked like three bullet holes were in the windshield, and the driver's-side window was gone.

RCMP forensic investigator Cpl. Craig Glover told court he found 12 bullet casings and a bullet in the light snow between the Jeep and a police cruiser stopped nearby.

Another officer, Sgt. Hollie Maffenbeier, told court another bullet was found lodged in the vehicle's steering wheel.

The Jeep had damage to the passenger side, with the rear door jammed shut so officers couldn't open it, and the latch for the trunk hatch snapped off in the lock, leaving it wide open.

Maffenbeier told court that officers found beer cans strewn between the two vehicles, and a small bag containing a white substance was found inside the vehicle.

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.

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

His trial is scheduled to take two weeks.

3rd police shooting death in 2015

Campbell's mother, Shirley Huber, and Flett filed separate lawsuits against Letkeman, the RCMP and the attorney general over Campbell's death.

A statement of defence said Letkeman had a duty to ensure public safety and he "acted in accordance with his recognized duties."

Following the shooting, Manitoba's Independent Investigation Unit determined there were grounds for charges.  At the time, it was the most serious charge recommended by the police watchdog since its inception in June 2015.

Campbell was the third person to die following a police shooting in 2015. 

With files from Jillian Taylor