Category Archives: IIU

RCMP Constable Abram Letkeman Faces Multiple Charges in Killing of Steven Campbell

It is among the rarest of occurrences for a police officer who kills someone, even under the most dubious of circumstances, to be charged with anything related to the killing. As documented at this site are virtually never charged, and more a range of administrative mechanisms (inquests, inquiries, oversight bodies, etc.) are mobilized to legitimize the cops’ deadly actions. So it is of some note when a killer cop is actually charged, even if the courts often dismiss the charges or find for the killers.

Manitoba RCMP Constable Abram Letkeman has been charged with manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, reckless discharge of a firearm, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and dangerous driving causing bodily harm is the shooting and killing of Steven Campbell (39), a father of two, in Thompson, Manitoba in 2015. Constable Letkeman was arrested March 1, 2017. Letkeman shot and killed Campbell following a police chase on November 21, 2015. Shots fired by the officer also hit the mother of Campbell daughter, resulting in serious injuries (Taylor 2017). There were two other passengers in the vehicle into which Letkeman fired.

The province’s Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), which examines harm done by police to civilians in Manitoba, investigated the circumstances surrounding the shooting and killing and determined that there were grounds to lay charges. The manslaughter charge is the most serious charge recommended by the IIU since it started its work in June of 2015, reinforcing the fact that police rarely face appropriate charges when they kill civilians. The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office had called an inquest into Campbell’s death in August 2016.

The family has always viewed  the RCMP version of events as “ a joke” (Taylor 2017). From the perspective of Shannon Heck, Campbell’s younger sister, the manslaughter charges do not go far enough ad do not reflect the, in her view, murderous approach taken by Constable : “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. I don’t think charging him with manslaughter is appropriate” (quoted in Taylor 2017).

The RCMP claim that Steven Campbell was driving erratically when RCMP officers pulled him over. They also claim that as one officer approach the vehicle Campbell accelerated his vehicle and him. RCMP say it was only then that shots were fired. These claims have not been independently confirmed and the family says that Campbell did not accelerate and did not even hit any officer. A passenger in the vehicle says Letkeman slammed his police car into the vehicle Campbell was driving, stopping it. She also claims the officer fired nine times into the vehicle (Graham 2017). What has been confirmed is that Constable Abram Letkeman fired wildly into the vehicle hitting and killing Campbell and critically injuring his partner (Taylor 2017).

From the family’s understanding of events: “The story the RCMP was releasing, it was a joke as far as we were concerned. We knew something else had happened and we knew that the truth would come out” (Heck quoted in Taylor 2017). As Shannon Heck says, at the end of the day: “My brother will never be brought back” (quoted in Taylor 2017).

Letkeman, a seven-year veteran of the RCMP, had been deployed out of the Portage la Prairie, detachment. He has been released on bail with conditions to appear at Provincial Court in Thompson at 10 AM on March 31, 2017. He is still being paid as an officer of the RCMP as he has been since the killing in 2015.

 

Further Reading

Graham, Ian. 2017. “RCMP Officer who Shot Thompson Driver in 2015 Charged with Manslaughter.” Thompson Citizen. March 2. http://www.thompsoncitizen.net/news/thompson/rcmp-officer-who-shot-thompson-driver-in-2015-charged-with-manslaughter-1.10790535

Taylor, Jillian. 2017. “RCMP Officer Charged with Manslaughter in 2015 Thompson Shooting.” CBC News. March 2. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/rcmp-officer-charged-fatal-2015-shooting-thompson-1.4006644

 


Investigation into Police Killing of Man in Winnipeg (February 12, 2017)

The Independent Investigations Unit (IIU), the oversight body that examines police killings of civilians in Manitoba, is investigating after police killed a man they had taken into custody in the evening of February 12, 2017. Winnipeg police officers attended a home in Garden City after supposedly receiving reports of a disturbance there in the late evening. One man in the house said he wanted another man removed from the residence and police took the other man into custody to remove him. According to police some type of struggle ensured and the prisoner was injured fatally. Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Services was contacted and the victim was taken to Seven Oaks Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Independently confirmed details of the killing have not been released publicly. Neither has the name of the victim.


“Friendly Giant” Killed by Officer at Winnipeg Remand Centre Identified as Russell Spence (31)

Barely ten months into 2016 and there have already been four death associated with the Winnipeg Remand Centre. One victim who died during some type of struggle with an officer on October 12 has been identified as Russell Spence (31) of Winnipeg. Spence was involved in some sort of altercation with an officer during processing at the remand center. He became unresponsive at the center and was transferred to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Names of victims have typically not been released by authorities but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation learned of Spence’s identity on October 26. His family has come forward asking for information about the specific circumstances of his death.

Russell Spence has been described as friendly and harmless. In the words of his older brother Kevin Bittern: “Russell was a friendly giant. All his friends and everyone knew he would not hurt anybody, or start anything. I find this very suspicious about his death” (quoted in Taylor 2016). Bittern does not believe Spence was resisting because of the man’s previous experiences in dealing with police. He is upset that the family has been kept in the dark about the killing of their loved one. The family is seeking legal assistance and attempting to piece together Russell Spence’s last hours outside. They are looking for any witnesses to the police intervention against the victim.

The Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), the oversight body that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Manitoba, is investigating the death because the struggle was with either a police officer or a corrections officer. The IIU has not revealed which force the officer belonged to. There has been no comment from Winnipeg Police Service.

 

Further Reading

Taylor, Jillian. 2016. “Remand Centre Inmate Who Died after Struggle was a ‘Friendly Giant.’” CBC News. October 26. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/russell-spence-dies-struggle-remand-centre-1.3822179


Man Killed in Struggle with Police at Winnipeg Remand Center (October 12, 2016)

A man died following a struggle with police while being processed at the Winnipeg Remand Center on Wednesday, October 12, 2016. The man suffered some sort of medical emergency during the struggle and became unresponsive. He was transported by ambulance to the Health Sciences Centre and died while in hospital.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, the agency that investigates incidents of harm to civilians by police in Winnipeg, sent investigators to the scene directly. Manitoba Corrections is also investigating and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has been notified.

The Winnipeg Remand Centre is already the site of local controversy with Manitoba Corrections under fire over the death of Errol Greene earlier in 2016. Greene’s family has maintained that Greene was epileptic and did not have access to his medications over the course of several days. The family has criticized officials for not providing proper details about what happened to their loved one. They are still not clear whether Greene died at the remand center itself or some time later in hospital. The family called for a public inquest into his death in August but the government has still not agreed to this reasonable request.


Woman Killed in Crash during Pursuit by Winnipeg Police

A woman has been killed when the van she was a passenger in collided with a pickup truck and rolled over during pursuit by Winnipeg police on Boyd Avenue near Sinclair Street in the Burrow’s neighborhood. The crash occurred on September 13, 2016. The victim was one of five people, including another woman, two men, one of whom was the driver, and a 17-year-old boy, who were in the silver van that crashed following initiation of police pursuit. The four other occupants of the van are in stable condition in local hospital. The driver of the pickup truck was also in hospital in stable condition.

According to Winnipeg police spokesperson Constable Rob Carver, whose statements have not been independently confirmed: “The incident appears to have started when a general patrol unit in the area observed the vehicle with five individuals in it and decided that there was a reason to initiate a traffic stop. Overhead lights were activated and … the vehicle immediately fled and collided with the half-ton” (quoted in CBC News 2016). Curiously Carver went on to suggest that “[w]hile it is a pursuit by a technical definition, we did not actually apparently pursue the vehicle” (quoted in CBC News 2016). However, a short pursuit is still actually apparently a pursuit nonetheless. And in this case one with fatal consequences. No other details have been released by police or independent witnesses. Police have not revealed why they decided to pursue the vehicle in the first place.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, which examines all incidents of harm to civilians by on-duty and off-duty officers in Manitoba, is investigating this incident which resulted in the death of the woman passenger. The victim has not yet been named publicly.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2016. “Woman Dead after Van Fleeing Officers Crashes, Winnipeg Police Say.” CBC News. September 13. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/boyd-sinclair-crash-winnipeg-1.3760853


Killing Independence: Active Officers and the Independent Investigations Unit in Manitoba

Despite the ongoing and consistently stated desires of civilian populations for independent civilian oversight of police forces in the Canadian context it is still the case that independent oversight or investigations units have not been established in all provinces. Even more though in those provinces in which supposedly independent investigations units have been established there are very real and serious concerns about the lack of actual independence of these units from police agencies. This includes cases of the outright presence of police officers as members of these units or the use of police to deliver compulsory training to unit members.

The Independent Investigation Unit in Manitoba (IIU) was only founded in 2011. Yet it has taken very little time for the unit to succumb to problems of involvement of police and concerns over lack of transparency that have quickly overtaken other units in Canada. On April 15, 2016, it was announced that a key civilian member of the Manitoba Police Commission has quit the position over concerns that police officers are investigating themselves (CBC News 2016).

Robert Taman was appointed to the nine-person commission in 2011 but has resigned due to what he calls a “difference of opinion” regarding police involvement in the IIU. In resigning his position Taman reported that an active member of the Winnipeg Police Service joined the Independent Investigation Unit in April and as a result he came to the conclusion that he must quit his position. The conflict of interest and lack of independence and integrity this implies for investigations of officers seem rather straightforward and clear. In Taman’s words:

“To have them actually conduct an investigation against one of their former brothers in a crime situation, I think they would have a difficult time separating themselves in the situation, and I just feel it should be an outside source. It has to be done a certain way. And I don’t think anything has gone awry; I think everybody’s trying hard to put together something that’s going to work. I just think sometimes things aren’t done quite the way they should be done, because it doesn’t quite fit within the government parameters.” (quoted in CBC News 2016)

This is a particularly poignant case of independence being invalidated by the presence of a police officer given that the IIU in Manitoba was created as one of the recommendations following from an inquiry into the police killing of Robert Taman’s wife in 2005. Taman has been a tireless advocate for accountability and integrity in policing, and civilian oversight, since his wife, Crystal, was killed in a crash involving an off-duty Winnipeg police officer (CBC News 2016).

Crystal Taman, a 40-year-old mother of three, was killed when her car, which had stopped at a traffic light, was struck by a pickup truck driven by off-duty Winnipeg police officer 31-year-old Derek Harveymordenzenk (also known as Derek Harvey-Zenk). Harveymordenzenk had spent that evening partying with colleagues. As a result of his killing Taman he received only a two-year conditional sentence. This after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death. There was great public outcry over the light sentence given Harveymordenzenk. This led to a provincial inquiry that concluded with recommendations for what were to be substantial structural changes to the practice of policing in Manitoba.

The provincial inquiry examined what was a dubious police investigation into the crash and made recommendations including the establishment of a police commission and independent investigation unit. Members of the Manitoba Police Commission are appointed by the provincial government which has raised some questions of political interference, favoritism, or coercion. It is the commission that assigns civilian monitors to investigations conducted by the Independent Investigation Unit in cases in which a civilian is killed or suffers serious injury in incidents involving police officers (CBC News 2016).

At the time of formation of the Manitoba Police Commission in 2011, then provincial Attorney General Andrew Swan had much to say about civilian input and oversight and accountability measures regarding police. In his words at the time:

“This diverse group of men and women will play a fundamental part in providing a new era of civilian input, governance, transparency and accountability in the delivery of policing services in Manitoba. We’re taking the next step in replacing outdated legislation with the new Police Services Act, ensuring that our police officers are supported with a modern act and that citizens can play a crucial role in overseeing the delivery of policing services well into the future.” (quoted in CBC News 2011)

A new Police Services Act was drafted following the recommendations of the Taman Inquiry, and the appointment of the Manitoba Police Commission was viewed as the first crucial step in implementing the Police Services Act. Since its founding the commission has been tasked with providing advice on required policing standards including matters of police training and equipment. The commission also helps to train the local police boards that were established in areas operating their own police services. Local police boards trained by the commission are given the power to hire the police chief, propose and administer police budgets, as well as setting the overall direction and operation of its police service (CBC News 2011).

In addition it is the commission that was charged with recruiting and training the roster of people who were supposed to monitor investigations of police incidents involving harm as well as allegations against police officers by the IIU. This roster was supposed to be composed of civilians as Attorney General Swan stated in his announcement of the first commission.

Clearly the independent character of the IIU in Manitoba has been formally ended. This is a fate that took little time in arriving. It is by no means the exception in the Canadian state context. Indeed it is the (all too predictable) rule. The blue wall of silence is not relinquished readily or easily (or at all) by police in Canada.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2011. “Police Commission Board Announced.” CBC News. February 11. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/police-commission-board-announced-1.997808

CBC News. 2016. “Robert Taman Quits Manitoba Police Commission Over IIU Concerns.” April 15. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/robert-taman-manitoba-police-commission-1.3538005