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Alberta Mountie gets probation for in-custody assault on Indigenous man


HIGH PRAIRIE, Alta. — A Mountie has been given 15 months probation for assaulting an Indigenous man shortly after his arrest in northern Alberta.

A judge convicted Const. Licio Soares, an eight-year RCMP veteran, in May of assaulting 32-year-old Vernon Laboucan at the Slave Lake RCMP detachment in September 2017.

As part of his probation, Soares is required to complete 150 hours of community service as well as an education course on the historical harm the RCMP has had on Indigenous communities.

The assault came shortly after an intoxicated Laboucan was arrested for mischief.

Video shown in court showed the officer taking Laboucan to the ground headfirst, and landing several blows to his head and back after Laboucan tossed his sweater at Soares.

Alberta's agency that investigates police actions said Laboucan, who has a criminal record, was not seriously hurt. 

"This is a serious crime because of the breach of trust by an on-duty officer involving a vulnerable prisoner," Judge Robert Marceau said Wednesday during a phone hearing in High Prairie provincial court.

"After throwing him to the ground, the officer had ample opportunity to step back and reassess the situation."

The soundless video was entered into court as an exhibit during Laboucan's mischief prosecution and was obtained first by CTV News.

The mischief charge was later stayed.

Prosecutor Jason Neustaeter had argued that Soares should receive a conditional sentence of up to 90 days, as well as probation.

"(Laboucan) was brought to the detachment for his own protection," said Neustaeter, who noted that the man was unable to stand at the time of the video. "Const. Soares was in a position of trust."

"Mr. Laboucan was a person who was vulnerable in those circumstances."

Defence lawyer James McLeod wanted a conditional discharge. He argued that Soares was already been subject to internal RCMP discipline that resulted in a $3,300 fine.

He added that the officer faces "significant work limitations" stemming from that discipline, including being forbidden from arresting, detaining or investigating civilians.

McLeod said Soares misinterpreted Laboucan's actions.

"This was not an offence motivated by frustration or anger. In Const. Soares's mind, he was reacting to the situation in front of him."

The Mountie has undergone counselling, McLeod added.

Laboucan said he has no memory of what happened. In his victim impact statement, read by the judge, he said he felt "hurt and disgusted" after seeing the video.

"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."

The RCMP said Soares has transferred out of the Slave Lake detachment to a Calgary-based federal intelligence unit.

The officer addressed court Wednesday and apologized for his actions.

"I’m sorry for what I have done. I take full responsibility," he said. "I thought I was acting appropriately. I recognize now that I was not."

Cpl. Laurel Scott wrote in an email to CTV News that it was anticipated the Mountie's duty status would be reviewed after the sentencing.

The RCMP said he had no previous disciplinary issues.

Laboucan is currently in custody and facing assault and second-degree murder charges in the stabbing death of a man from the Swan River First Nation. (CTV News)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2020

The Canadian Press

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