THOMPSON, Man. – An RCMP officer in northern Manitoba made a disastrous tactical decision to step in front a vehicle before he shot the driver, an expert in police use of force testified at the officer’s trial Tuesday.
Const. Abram Letkeman is charged with manslaughter in the November 2015 death of Steven Campbell, who was behind the wheel of a Jeep that the Mountie had tried to pull over for erratic driving.
Letkeman shot Campbell at least nine times. There were two bullets lodged in the man’s body – one in his jaw and another in his shoulder. Another bullet went through his open mouth.
The Court of Queen’s Bench trial has heard that Letkeman attempted to pull over the vehicle shortly after bars had closed in Thompson, Man., on suspicion the driver was impaired. Campbell and four passengers were inside, including the driver’s longtime girlfriend Lori Flett.
Christopher Butler, a retired Calgary police inspector, was brought in by the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba to review what happened. The unit investigates serious actions involving police.
Court heard Tuesday that there was a collision between the police car and the Jeep on a road which caused the Jeep to spin out.
The Jeep then travelled down a trail for all-terrain vehicles and Letkeman continued to follow. At some point, the police car T-boned the Jeep.
Butler told court that when the officer continued pursuing the vehicle it was unjustified. He also said if Letkeman intentionally rammed the jeep that would be against protocol and extremely dangerous.
Once the jeep was stopped, the tactical decision for the officer, Butler suggested, would have been for him to stay in his car and wait for backup after the collision. But Letkeman got out and walked in front of the Jeep.
“That is tactically disastrous,” Butler said. “You don’t put yourself in front of the vehicle.”
Police at the time of the shooting said the Jeep accelerated towards Letkeman, prompting him to start shooting.
Butler did say that if the Jeep moved toward the officer and he believed he could die, firing his gun would be consistent with RCMP policy.
The Crown prosecutor asked if the officer put himself in jeopardy. Butler responded, “Yes.”
Court has heard that 12 shell casings were found at the scene. The Crown prosecutor asked whether Letkeman needed to continue firing his gun, even when he had moved away from the front of the Jeep and could no longer be run over.
Butler responded that Letkeman would have been clear from danger and could have stopped shooting. When cross-examined by the defence, however, Butler said it is common for police officers to continue firing their gun until it is empty.
Letkeman is expected to testify in his own defence on Thursday.