Edmonton police lose bid to appeal ruling that kept constable on the job

In October 2016, Const. David Ahlstrom was assigned to guard the perimeter of a crime scene at a northeast Edmonton house. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC - image credit)
In October 2016, Const. David Ahlstrom was assigned to guard the perimeter of a crime scene at a northeast Edmonton house. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton's police chief has lost a bid to appeal a review board's decision allowing an officer to keep his job despite stealing money from a crime scene.

On Oct. 4, 2016, Const. David Ahlstrom was assigned to guard the perimeter of a homicide scene at a northeast Edmonton house.

He entered the home and took $300 in cash, telling a supervisor the next day he had found the money and forgotten to submit it as an exhibit.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team opened an investigation and EPS transferred Ahlstrom to administrative duties.

As part of its investigation, ASIRT conducted two "integrity tests."

On May 10, 2017, an undercover officer handed Ahlstrom a duffel bag, claiming to have found it. Ahlstrom went through the bag and took $25 in cash and two $50 prepaid Visa cards.

On Aug. 2, 2017, Ahlstrom was asked to help in a search for a reported stolen vehicle. He stole $88 and two packs of cigarettes from the vehicle.

Ahlstrom was arrested and charged under the Criminal Code. He pleaded guilty to three counts of theft and three counts of breach of trust and in August 2018 was sentenced to 18 months of probation.

After the conclusion of the criminal proceedings, he was charged with 10 counts of misconduct under the Police Service Regulation. He pleaded guilty to all of them.

In May 2021 he testified at his disciplinary hearing, which also heard from two psychiatrists and a forensic psychologist.

Ahlstrom had been diagnosed with PTSD and major depressive disorder before the first theft in 2016, but the presiding officer at the disciplinary hearing concluded the severity of his misconduct outweighed the influence of his mental health concerns.

The presiding officer concluded Ahlstrom's misconduct warranted dismissal from the force.

Ahlstrom appealed his dismissal and took his case to the Law Enforcement Review Board.

In March of this year, the review board allowed the appeal, finding that Ahlstrom had provided enough evidence of a causal relationship between his misconduct and his mental health concerns to mitigate the penalty.

"The presiding officer [at the disciplinary hearing] noted that symptoms of PTSD existed prior to the first incident of misconduct, but continued to state he is less certain that the PTSD was 'active' at the time of the incidents," the LERB said in its decision.

"The board finds these two concepts difficult to reconcile — if a person has symptoms of PTSD, surely the PTSD is active."

Overruling the EPS disciplinary decision, the review board imposed a penalty of reduction in rank for two years, directing Ahlstrom drop down from Senior Constable Level 1-8 Years to Constable 4th Year.

Attempt to appeal

At the beginning of August, the Alberta Court of Appeal heard an application from Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee to appeal the LERB ruling.

Justice Jolaine Antonio acknowledged that the grounds of appeal would have a reasonable prospect of success, and that the LERB's reasons failed to demonstrate it had paid appropriate deference to the presiding officer's analysis and conclusions.

She said the LERB revealed a "highly selective approach" to the presiding officer's reasoning.

"Read in its entirety, it is apparent the presiding officer seriously considered the conflicting expert evidence and sought a nuanced conclusion," she wrote.

However, Antonio said that for the appeal to move forward, it must also address a significant question of law.

She found legal questions raised by the application were well-settled and not deserving scrutiny of an appeal panel.

"I am not satisfied the board's legal failures in this case indicate a pattern of disregard for its role in reasonableness review or otherwise implicate the integrity of the complaint process," she wrote.

"With some reluctance, I conclude that permission to appeal must be denied."

A spokesperson for EPS said Ahlstrom was suspended without pay during the proceedings.

The service is currently reviewing the decision and determining next steps.