RCMP officer charged with manslaughter in 2015 Thompson shooting

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A Manitoba RCMP officer has been charged with manslaughter for a fatal police shooting in Thompson, Man., in 2015.

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

The charges relate to the death of Steven Campbell, 39, who was shot and killed on Nov. 21, 2015, after a police chase involving the vehicle he was driving. Shots also hit the mother of Campbell's daughter, causing serious injuries.

"My brother will never be brought back," said Shannon Heck, Campbell's younger sister.   

"The officer is somebody who is supposed to be able to keep his calm and cool and for some reason or other he didn't do that and he didn't act appropriately," she said. "I don't think charging him with manslaughter is appropriate."

Manitoba's Independent Investigation Unit investigated the fatal shooting and determined there were grounds for charges. 

This is the most serious charge recommended by the IIU since its inception in June of 2015.

At the time of the shooting, RCMP said Steven Campbell was driving erratically when officers pulled him over and as the officer approached the vehicle, Campbell accelerated and hit him. 

RCMP said that is when the officer fired shots at the vehicle, killing Campbell and critically injuring his girlfriend. 

Campbell's family has said in the past that Campbell didn't accelerate or hit the police officer.

"The story the RCMP was releasing, it was a joke as far as we were concerned," said Heck. "We knew something else had happened and we knew that the truth would come out."

Criminal charges for officers rare

University of Manitoba criminology professor Frank Cormier said the shooting and ensuing charges beg a question that's not easily answered: how often police officers are charged for use of lethal force on the job.

"And the answer to that is unfortunately, we don't have a very good idea of that," Cormier said. "There's very little reliable data that are collected so that we can know how often these kinds of things occur."

In his own research, Cormier said he was able to confirm 12 Canadian cases when officers were charged in relation to a death in the past 30 years.

"That is my best estimate at this point," he said, adding the rise of groups like Manitoba's IIU should lead to better data going forward.

​The Chief Medical Examiner's Office called an inquest into Campbell's death in August 2016.

"This is a difficult day for the families and all people involved and so deeply affected by the tragic series of events that occurred on November 21, 2015," RCMP D Division commanding officer Scott Kolody said in an emailed statement.

"While I cannot speak to the investigation, I can confirm that Const. Letkeman has been suspended with pay and that a Code of Conduct (internal investigation) will also be initiated by the RCMP."

The statement said Letkeman, a seven-year RCMP veteran, was serving in the Portage la Prairie, Man. detachment. 

Letkeman has been released on bail with conditions to appear at Provincial Court in Thompson at 10 a.m. on March 31, 2017.