How much value does the criminal justice system place on the lives of people killed by police? The general answer is very little. The system that so easily and readily imposes itself on the lives of non-police charged with offenses is less ready to act when the offender is a cop. In the specific case of young victim James Christian McIntosh, only five when struck and killed by RCMP Constable Ace Stewart (49) on September 15, 2015 in Penticton, BC, the courts have determined the value of life at $1500. This is the decision of the court and Justice James Threlfall delivered on January 23, 2017. And this decision is clearly more about the killer being a police officer than any regard for equal application of justice.
Constable Ace Stewart drove into and killed James McIntosh in a proper crosswalk while the boy was out for a walk with his father and brother. Stewart did not slow down or stop his vehicle despite being aware that pedestrians on the street were urging him to do so. He claims he did not know what they meant so he ignored them. Until it was too late. He continued his vehicle even after striking the boy, running over him in the large pickup truck. James McIntosh sustained massive head injuries as a result.
The killing has been devastating for the McIntosh family. Father Brian who was walking with James and as a trained paramedic tried to save his son, has been diagnosed with PTSD. Brother Caleb has been deeply impacted. In the words of mother Elizabeth: “Not only is Caleb struggling with the loss of James, but having witnessed the accident and feeling somehow responsible because he couldn’t protect James has been a struggle for him” (quoted in Boyd 2017). According to Elizabeth McIntosh since the killing Caleb’s “existence has destabilized” (quoted in Arstad 2017).
In cases where police kill civilians there is invariably an effort in the courts, media, policing institutions, and among police supporters to portray the officer who killed as a victim as much as the person they killed. This played out in the trial of Ace Stewart. Neville McDougal, Stewart’s counsel claimed: “Everyone in this case is a victim” (quoted in Boyd 2017). Never mind that only one person is dead as a result of officer Ace Stewart’s actions, five-year-old James McIntosh.
The favor shown the RCMP constable is clear. According to the lawyer: “The cases clearly say, we are not sentencing you for causing death, we are sentencing you for your momentary inadvertence” (quoted in Mangione 2017). Incredibly the prosecutor, Crown counsel Peter Juk, told the court: “This is not the very worst driving, the very worst set of facts” (quoted in Fries 2017). This is how prosecutors treat police killings of civilians.
Interestingly it seems that officer Stewart’s macho cop identity may have played a role in this horrible situation. Crown counsel Juk noted in his submissions that the vehicle Stewart was driving when he hit James McIntosh, a 2015 Chevy Silverado, had been modified at the Chevrolet dealership to be lifted substantially. The truck was raised more than four inches over its original height. The truck also had wider than average tires. Stewart wanted to be seen as a tough guy on the road.
The judge used Stewart’s macho driving choices as a reason to justify the lenient court decision. According to Threlfall: “The increased height of Constable Stewart’s truck due to aftermarket modifications increased the truck’s blind spot area for objects immediately beside or in front of the truck 62 per cent over the original unmodified vehicle” (quoted in Boyd 2017). Yet while prosecutor Juk did argue Stewart’s obligation to drive more, rather than less, carefully given such known consequences of his modification of the truck, this did not seem to play into the judge’s decision. The judge did view the constable’s history of policing favorably in considering the sentence, of course.
Neither did evidence of Constable Ace Stewart’s extensive record of speeding offenses dating back to 1996. Here is another case of a police officer getting away with multiple violations over the course of decades with little to no consequence or accountability until finally these identifiable and documented activities finally lead to the death of a civilian. And even then, the result is a $1500 fine and Constable Ace Stewart is off to drive recklessly again.
The charge of driving a motor vehicle without care and attention under the Motor Vehicle Act could have carried a six-month sentence.
Arstad, Steve. 2017. “Police Officer Enters Guilty Plea in Traffic Death of Five-Year-Old Penticton Boy.” Infonews.ca. January 23. http://infotel.ca/newsitem/police-officer-enters-guilty-plea-in-traffic-death-of-five-year-old-penticton-boy/it38918
Boyd, Dale. 2017. “RCMP Officer Fined for Crash that Killed Boy.” Penticton Western News. January 23. http://www.pentictonwesternnews.com/news/411563625.html
Fries, Joe. 2017. “Mountie Who Killed Boy in Traffic Accident Fined $1,500.” Kelowna Daily Courier. January 23. http://www.kelownadailycourier.ca/news/article_7c9b6790-e1fd-11e6-9b9d-f75aff13f6bb.html
Mangione, Kendra. 2017. “Mountie Fined $1,500 in Crash that Killed Five-Year-Old.” CTV News. January 23. http://bc.ctvnews.ca/mountie-fined-1-500-in-crash-that-killed-5-year-old-1.3253526