Mountie to be sentenced for 2017 in-custody assault of Indigenous man
EDMONTON -- A Mountie is scheduled to be sentenced Monday for assaulting an Indigenous man at the Slave Lake RCMP Detachment in 2017.
On May 27, Const. Licio Soares, 35, was found guilty in Alberta Provincial Court of assaulting 32-year-old Vernon Laboucan after arresting him on Sept. 19, 2017.
The conviction comes after video of the assault showed the officer taking Laboucan to the ground head first before landing several blows to his head and back.
The soundless video was entered as an exhibit at his trial and subsequently obtained by CTV News.
The RCMP says Const. Soares, an eight-year RCMP veteran, has since transferred out of the Slave Lake detachment and that his duty status is unchanged.
RCMP say he was subject to an internal code of conduct process that began in December of 2017 and concluded in April 2019. As per RCMP policy, the details of that internal process are not made public.
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.
Simple assaults can be punishable by jail time but more commonly result in a fine or other administrative punishment.
The assault was recorded on video, starting at 6:01 a.m., about 20 minutes after Laboucan had been arrested on allegations of mischief, breaching a condition of release and uttering threats against Const. Soares.
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.
‘I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT’
As a result of the assault, charges against Laboucan were stayed, according to his lawyer Rory Ziv.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Ziv said after seeing the video. “We place our trust in police officers protecting us and I think this officer violated that trust.”
The video first came to attention while Laboucan was in court on the mischief charge.
“There was an allegation that my client had assaulted the police officer but there was no allegation that the police officer had done anything back.”
Ziv says Laboucan, a member of the Whitefish Lake First Nation, was intoxicated at the time of the video and has no memory of the assault.
“My client was in a very vulnerable situation,” said Ziv. “He throws a sweater at him and then the officer takes him down.”
Lawyer Tom Engel, the chair of the policing committee of the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association, questions why Const. Soares was allowed to remain on duty after being charged.
"They know what he did,” he said of the RCMP. “Why would they allow him to carry on dealing with the public when he’s done something like that?”
He says officers facing criminal charges should be taken off active duty.
“All police services have to start reacting to something like this with immediate suspensions … we’re going to protect the public.”
Soares was one of seven Alberta police officers to be charged with a criminal offence in 2019. Three have been charged in 2020 as of June 10.
LENGTHY CRIMINAL RECORD
Laboucan has a lengthy criminal record stemming from a difficult upbringing, according to Ziv and court documents.
Ziv says Laboucan has been on his own since he was 13 and was raised by parents and grandparents who had attended residential schools. He says as a boy, Laboucan was a witness to drug, alcohol and domestic abuse.
Laboucan’s prior offences include a 2018 assault conviction for which he was sentenced to 40 days in jail and a second assault conviction last March that resulted in a $500 fine.
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.
He is scheduled to appear in court to answer those charges on July 8.