A Saskatoon police officer found guilty of obstruction was handed a 90-day conditional sentence Friday and may lose his job on the force.
Cst. Steven Nelson must report to a supervisor, maintain an approved residence with an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew, do 50 hours of community service within 60 days and pay a $200 surcharge after being convicted of destroying a police statement.
In June, Judge H.M. Harradence ruled Nelson, 32, did not know he was being recorded when he told another officer to rip up a statement made by a woman who said she had lied about being assaulted by her boyfriend.
The judge concluded Nelson therefore knew the conversation was improper and intended to destroy the recanted statement provided to a duty desk officer on Aug. 13, 2012. According to the judge, Nelson’s actions were not a momentary lapse in judgment but an ongoing choice throughout the trial.
Harradence said the case struck at the very heart of the administration of justice. He said Nelson’s actions not only broke the law, but affected other police officers, and the integrity of the original assault case.
The judge said because police officers hold a special place of trust in society, they must have more severe sentences than civilians when that trust is broken.
“The victim here is the public trust and confidence in the police,” Harradence said.
However, he did note Nelson’s actions were out of character; the officer had never been in trouble with the law before and he was highly involved in his community including coaching children’s hockey and soccer.
“This case is a tragedy for the family,” Harradence said.
The defence had originally sought a conditional discharge with “significant community service,” but Harradence said that was not in the public interest and would not act as deterrence to other police officers.
The defence said the judge should consider the attention Nelson received in the court of public opinion and in the media. His lawyer Brad Mitchell said Nelson’s reputation had been severely damaged and he had given up coaching during the trial to avoid offending parents.
However, the judge said public attention from the trial should not have significant impact on the sentence because a judge has no control over public reaction. He also said the courts should be open and transparent as a fundamental part of democracy.
Before sentencing, the defence presented a final letter of support for Nelson, bringing the total number of letters from Nelson’s support network to 33.
“This is a man who is very dedicated to his community,” Mitchell said.
Around a dozen family, friends and colleagues sat in the courtroom and later surrounded Nelson as he hurriedly and silently exited the courthouse.
Nelson’s voice occasionally cracked as he told the judge how the case has “shattered his world” and how he never meant to hurt or put stress upon the police force – his second family as he called it – or his family, however he never apologized for his actions.
The guilty verdict may cost Nelson his job as an officer.
“I recognize the seriousness of a member of the Saskatoon Police Service being convicted of an indictable offence, specifically when the offence is willfully obstructing justice,” police chief Clive Weighill said in an emailed statement.
He said he will recommend the Saskatchewan Police Commission extend Nelson’s suspension, but now without pay, until a hearing under the Saskatchewan Police Act 1990. At the hearing, Weighill said he will seek Nelson’s dismissal.
“I want to assure the public that the members of our Service are committed to serving the citizens of Saskatoon honestly and fairly,” he said.
Follow on Twitter: @lkretzel