Sentencing adjourned for 2017 Mountie assault of Indigenous man
EDMONTON -- A provincial court judge in High Prairie has adjourned sentencing until July 15 for a Mountie convicted of assaulting an Indigenous man inside the Slave Lake RCMP detachment in 2017.
Const. Licio Saores, 35, was to be sentenced Monday via a phone hearing held at High Prairie Provincial Court.
He had been found guilty in Alberta Provincial Court on May 27 of assaulting 32-year-old Vernon Laboucan after arresting him on Sept. 19, 2017.
Judge Robert Marceau ordered Monday's sentencing hearing to be adjourned as Laboucan was unable to attend by phone as he is isolating at the Peace River Correctional Centre after displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
"I have competing interests. Officer Soares wants to get on with it and the Charter says the sentence shall procede as soon thereafter," said Marceau. "The victim wishes to be personally present by phone ... he has a significant interest in this matter."
"Given Mr. Laboucan cannot attend today I'm left in the unenviable position of having to adjourn the matter."
Laboucan's lawyer, Rory Ziv, indicated his client's strong preference to participate in the sentencing hearing.
The Crown prosecutor had secured a judge's order to ensure Laboucan's attendance via phone, but the order was mis-interpreted and Laboucan was transported from Edmonton to Peace River.
A lawyer for Const. Soares argued for the sentencing to go ahead Monday, stating the Mountie would like to begin to serve his punishment and move on from the matter.
Const. Soares' 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.
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 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.”
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.