Charges against officer 'exceptional and rare', says head of Manitoba investigation unit

1 / 2
Charges against officer 'exceptional and rare', says head of Manitoba investigation unit

The laying of manslaughter charges against a Manitoba police officer is a first in the province and a rarity in Canada, says a former Crown attorney who now heads the Independent Investigation Unit.

There have been just five other cases in Canada where an investigation has led to an officer being charged with manslaughter or murder, said Zane Tessler, executive director of Manitoba's IIU, which became operational in June 2015.

"These types of charges are exceptional and rare in Canada," he said.

Manitoba's IIU announced on Thursday that RCMP Const. Abram Letkeman has been charged with manslaughter for a fatal police shooting in Thompson in 2015.

Steven Campbell, 39, was shot and killed Nov. 21, 2015, after police fired at a vehicle he was driving. Shots also hit the mother of Campbell's daughter, causing serious injuries.

Letkeman, who was arrested March 1, is also charged with criminal negligence causing death, reckless discharge of a firearm, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Officer-involved shootings don't happen as often in Canada as they do in the United States, Tessler noted. And when they do happen, they result in "very significant investigations."

"You want to be satisfied that a thorough investigation has been conducted and that there are reasonable and probable grounds at the conclusion to determine whether charges should be authorized or not," he said.

"And in this particular case, there were … sufficient grounds."

He says each IIU investigation is evaluated on its own merits, facts and circumstances, and investigators take each case extremely seriously.

Letkeman has been released on bail and is due in a Thompson court on March 31.

The matter will be handled by Manitoba Prosecution Service and the IIU cannot comment further on the allegations, Tessler said.

The IIU investigates all serious incidents involving police officers in Manitoba, whether occurring on or off duty. Since it started, it has launched 44 investigations and concluded 21.

Three investigations have resulted in charges against four officers. Those against Letkeman are the most serious.

The others include two Brandon police officers charged last month with driving offences — one for careless driving and the other with imprudent driving.

 The other incident and the first time charges were laid against an officer was in October 2015 when an RCMP officer in The Pas, Man., was charged with assault.

It was a domestic incident that allegedly happened while the officer was off duty.