Lawyers at odds over sentencing from high-profile arrest

·4 min read

The lawyer for a man arrested in a high-profile takedown that forced the closure of the Hart Highway for several hours made a bid for a term of house arrest while Crown counsel argued for time in a federal prison during a sentencing hearing Monday at the Prince George courthouse.

Jamie Hal Hammerstrom, 43, has pleaded guilty to five counts from the July 17, 2019 incidentthat began when a shotgun was stolen from a Chief Lake Road home, according to an agreed statement of facts.

Later that morning, RCMPspotted a pickup truck in the area matching one seen in images from the home's security camera. Hammerstromhas denied participating in the robbery but admitted to being behind the wheel during the ensuing events.

He took off at a high speed and shortly afterwards, two other RCMPcame across the vehicle heading south on the Hart Highway then turning onto Knell Road.

With two RCMPvehicles in pursuit, Hammerstrompulled a u-turn. One of the RCMPpositioned his vehicle to block the way out and was struck on the front passenger side as Hammerstromswerved to escape police. An officer driving a second RCMPvehicle then deliberately struck the pickup which then continued on at a high speed across the highway's four lanes before hitting an embankment.

Wearing masks, Hammerstromand co-accused John Robert Barton Craig jumped out of the truck. Hammerstromthen reached back and pulled out a loaded single-shot 12-gauge shotgun and ran with an officer in pursuit with his gun drawn.

When Hammerstromfailed to comply with an order to stop, the officer fired off a warning shot. Hammerstromdropped his gun and kept running before finally complying with a further order to stop and drop to the ground. Two more shotgun shells were found in his jacket during a subsequent search.

Craig, meanwhile, had flagged down a member of the public who was under the mistaken belief he was helping police. Craig punched the man in the face and attempted to steal the vehicle. But the man fought back and Craig was arrested at gunpoint.

The scene was closed to traffic in both directions for several hours as police gathered evidence.

In October 2020, Craig was sentenced to a further 66 days in jail and three years probation. By then, he had been in custody for 455 days.

Hammerstrom, meanwhile, was released on bail in April 2019 to attend a residential treatment centre. His lawyer, David Hopkins, emphasized his good behaviour and the progress he has made on dealing with his addiction to drugs in arguing for a conditional sentence order.

If granted, Hammerstromwould serve his term at home with conditions such as being allowed off the property for a limited time each day when he is not working.

Rick Evans, the head of the treatment centre Hammerstromattended, also spoke to the court in his support, effectively describing him as a model participant who continues to remain sober and fully employed.

However, Crown counsel Emily Yaocontended a global sentence of four years less credit of 413 days for time spent in custody prior to sentencing would be more appropriate given the circumstances surrounding the case and Hammerstrom'slengthy criminal record.

It includes a sentence of five years less credit of 3 1/2 years for a failed scheme to sell stolen firearmsthrough accomplices while he was in custody at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre on another matter.

Crown also pointed to case law that put into question whether the judge can sentence Hammerstromto a conditional sentence order. Because it is a provincial sentence, the maximum length of a conditional sentence order is two years less a day.

It was a "highly charged situation" in which "only by luck no one was injured or killed," Yaosaid of the most recent matter.

Given a chance to speak to the court, Hammerstromapologized for his actions.

"I've come to the realization over this time that drugs obviously have had an effect on me and I'm better off without them," Hammerstromsaid.

Crown is also seeking a three-year driving prohibition and an order for restitution of $4,470 for the cost of repairs to the embankment on the highway.

Stressing he has not yet made a decision on sentencing, provincial court judge Martin Nadonsaid Hammerstromwill need to wear electronic monitoring if he is sentenced to house arrest. A verdict will be issued at a later date.

Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince George Citizen