Nova Scotia

N.S. judge considers childhood trauma in sentencing man who pulled gun on officer

A Nova Scotia judge has sentenced a man who pointed a gun at a police officer to five years in prison, saying his troubled upbringing and him taking responsibility for the incident were mitigating factors in the sentencing.

Dhari Salman Shalaan pleaded guilty to assaulting officer, pointing gun

Dhari Salman Shalaan is shown being escorted into Kentville provincial court on Dec. 12, 2018. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A Nova Scotia judge has sentenced a man who pointed a gun at a police officer to five years in prison, saying his troubled upbringing and him taking responsibility for the incident were mitigating factors in the sentencing.

Dhari Salman Shalaan was arrested in December 2018 after being pulled over for a traffic stop on Highway 101 near Berwick. During the stop, he shoved and headbutted the responding officer and pointed a gun at him. 

In response, the officer shot at him, striking his hand, and Shalaan fled into the woods. He was found a few hours later with a wounded hand. His unloaded gun was recovered a few days later.

The RCMP officer involved, Const. Brad Savage, was later cleared by the Serious Incident Response Team. The police watchdog said he was "reasonable and justified" in firing his weapon under the circumstances.

Shalaan, 27, pleaded guilty to assaulting a peace officer, pointing a firearm, possession of a concealed weapon and possession of a firearm while prohibited.

In a written sentencing decision, Judge Ronda van der Hoek said Shalaan, who had a criminal record prior to the incident, endured many hardships growing up.

Judge Ronda van der Hoek considered Shalaan's troubled childhood in her sentencing decision. (Province of Nova Scotia)

When Shalaan was three years old, the decision said, his father was murdered. His mother was found not guilty but fled the country soon after, leaving Shalaan and his siblings in foster care.

A cousin later moved to Canada from Kuwait and took them into his care until they were 18.

"That was not a happy placement and Mr. Shalaan endured an upbringing void of emotional attachment and the warmth of a father figure," said van der Hoek.

"The cousin was cold, physically abusive, and did not allow the boys to discuss their father or their feelings related to his murder."

Shalaan was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011.

Officer 'glad he did not kill Dhari'

van der Hoek said another mitigating factor was that Shalaan's early guilty pleas spared about 15 witnesses from testifying in the case.

She also noted that Shalaan has a son and a prospect of gainful employment once he's out of prison.

"Overall, he expresses a hope to return to society to be a productive employee who will not allow his criminal history to negatively impact his ability to be a good father and member of his community," van der Hoek wrote.

The decision said Savage, the officer involved in the incident, delivered a "moving and powerful" victim impact statement, where he said he watched his life flash before his eyes when Shalaan pointed the gun at him. He also said he was "glad he did not kill Dhari."

van der Hoek said Shalaan apologized to the officer.

Aggravating factors

The judge also noted a number of aggravating factors, including Shalaan's criminal record, the impact on Savage, and the harm to society done during the 2018 incident. She said the situation closed the highway and sent a local school into lockdown.

"Assaulting a police officer during a routine traffic stop is bold, brazen, and incredibly dangerous," she wrote. "Men of colour die for much less at the hands of police as we have seen again and again."

van der Hoek said the range of sentencing for weapons offences is "quite wide," and said the five-year sentence denounces Shalaan's actions, while also balancing his personal circumstances.

"I have exercised restraint in not imposing a sentence that would crush this young man's prospects for the future, while at the same time sending a message to the community that pointing firearms at police officers cannot be condoned," she said.

Shalaan was sentenced to three years for assaulting an officer, three years concurrent for pointing a firearm, one year consecutive for carrying a concealed restricted weapon, and two years concurrent to the previous sentence for breaching a lifetime firearms prohibition.

The judge ended the written decision with a message to Shalaan, saying his actions could have "led to the needless death of another person of colour at the hands of police."

"You are incredibly fortunate that the officer you engaged was skillful in his use of force against you. For that you should remain eternally grateful, if not for yourself, for your son who could have seen history repeating itself and setting him off on your current course," it said. 

"You have the chance to stop this madness, I implore you to accept the challenge."

About the Author

Alex Cooke

Reporter/editor

Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca.

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