Mountie sentenced to 15 months probation after assaulting in-custody Indigenous man
EDMONTON -- A Mountie has been sentenced to 15 months probation for a 2017 assault of an in-custody Indigenous man.
Const. Licio Soares, 35, was sentenced Wednesday via a phone hearing held at High Prairie Provincial Court.
Const. Soares, an eight-year RCMP veteran, was found guilty on May 27 of assaulting 32-year-old Vernon Laboucan at the Slave Lake RCMP detachment.
"This is a serious crime because of the breach of trust by an on-duty officer involving a vulnerable prisoner," said Judge Robert Marceau.
"After throwing him to the ground the officer had ample opportunity to step back and reassess the situation."
Marceau also noted the size discrepancy between Laboucan and Const. Soares.
"A six-foot tall, 220-pound officer used unnecessary force in four instances over the course of approximately 25 seconds against his five-foot-eight, 165-pound intoxicated prisoner Mr. Laboucan," Morceau said.
"This offence is grave because it undermines public confidence in the police and the rule of law."
Const. Soares is also required to complete 150 hours of community service as well as an education course on the historical negative impact of the RCMP on Indigenous communities.
The assault happened in September of 2017 and came shortly after Laboucan was arrested for mischief.
Video of the assault showed the officer taking Laboucan to the ground headfirst before landing several blows to his head and back.
The soundless video was entered into court as an exhibit during Laboucan's mischief prosecution and subsequently obtained first by CTV News.
As a result of the assault, the mischief charge was stayed.
Prosecutor Jason Neustaeter had argued for a conditional sentence of up to 90 days in custody as well as a period of probation.
"He was brought to the detachment for his own protection," Neustaeter said, noting Laboucan was unable to stand at the time of the assault video. "Const. Soares was in a position of trust."
"Mr. Laboucan was a person who was vulnerable in those circumstances."
Defence lawyer James McLeod argued Const. Soares has already been subject to an internal RCMP disciplinary process that McLeod says resulted in a $3,300 fine.
He added Const. Soares also now faces what he calls "significant work limitations" stemming from the RCMP's discipline, including being forbidden from arresting, detaining or investigating civilians.
McLeod further argued for a conditional discharge, saying Const. Soares misinterpreted Laboucan's actions and the assault was not motivated by frustration or anger.
"This was not an offence motivated by frustration or anger. In Const. Soares mind, he was reacting to the situation in front of him," said McLeod.
McLeod added Const. Soares has undergone counselling since the incident.
Laboucan was intoxicated at the time of the assault and has no memory of the incident.
Through his victim impact statement, read by the judge, the court heard he felt "hurt and disgusted" after seeing video of the assault.
"I thought 'how can someone do that to me when I was so out of it?' Why pick on a native on the street that was so highly intoxicated?”
“After the assault, when I was on the street I felt unsafe. I felt like 'the cops are always out to get me.'"
REVIEW OF DUTY STATUS
The RCMP says Const. Soares has since transferred out of the Slave Lake detachment to a Calgary-based federal intelligence unit.
He addressed the court Wednesday and apologized for his actions.
"I’m sorry for what I have done. I take full responsibility," said Const. Soares.
"At the time of this incident, I thought I was acting appropriately, I recognize now that I was not."
RCMP say he was subject to an internal code of conduct process that began in December of 2017 and concluded in April 2019.
"The Code of Conduct process has been administered to conclusion, with corrective action taken," Cpl. Laurel Scott wrote in an email to CTV News.
"It is anticipated that after sentencing, his duty status will be reviewed."
He does not have any previous disciplinary issues, according to the RCMP.
Const. Soares was found guilty by judge alone of simple assault, the lowest level of assault and distinct from more serious charges including assault causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon or aggravated assault.
Laboucan's lawyer, Rory Ziv, says his client wishes no ill-will towards the officer, but was hoping for a stiffer sentence.
"He was of the view that Const. Soares should've received some jail time and not be employed as a RCMP officer."
Ziv says it's important the officer did not escape a criminal record while also noting his remorse appeared genuine.
"I'm pleased that the judge did not give Const. Soares a discharge for this offence."
The assault was recorded on video, starting at 6:01 a.m., about 20 minutes after Laboucan had been arrested.
It begins showing a handcuffed Laboucan being marched into a holding area. He is left alone while handcuffed and seated on the floor as the officer walks into a room out of screen.
At 6:13 a.m., the video shows Const. Soares kneeling down and undoing Laboucan’s handcuffs.
Three minutes later, Laboucan is shown standing on the floor near the opposite cell block wall with his shoes and jacket removed.
Footage shows Laboucan pull a sweater over his head to remove it and throw it underhanded at Const. Soares, standing to his near left.
The video shows Const. Soares immediately throwing the sweater back towards Laboucan’s face before forcing him headlong onto the ground.
Const. Soares is shown striking Laboucan’s head before kneeing him five times in the back as he remained down on the floor.
The video ends showing Const. Soares restraining Laboucan by pushing his head into the floor before handcuffing him.
The conviction follows an investigation by the province’s police watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, that began in December of 2017 and resulted in the assault charge being filed in June 2019.
Laboucan did not suffer significant injuries, according to ASIRT.
LENGTHY CRIMINAL RECORD
Laboucan has a lengthy criminal record stemming from a difficult upbringing, according to Ziv and court documents.
He was raised by parents and grandparents who had attended residential schools, has lived on his own since he was 13 and was a witness to drug, alcohol and domestic abuse while growing up.
Laboucan is currently in custody and facing assault and second degree murder charges in connection with the May 17 Slave Lake stabbing death of a Swan River First Nation man.