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Pompeo court case is Cowichan’s 2013 Newsmaker of the year

Bill Gillespie shares with the media his disappointment in the sentence handed RCMP Const. David Pompeo (inset) in the 2009 shooting incident that left a bullet embedded in Gillespie’s spine. - Andrew Leong/file
Bill Gillespie shares with the media his disappointment in the sentence handed RCMP Const. David Pompeo (inset) in the 2009 shooting incident that left a bullet embedded in Gillespie’s spine.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Const. David Pompeo dabbed at tears he couldn’t hide moments after hearing his sentence for shooting an unarmed suspect.

They may have been tears of relief and joy.

In addition to avoiding jail after being convicted of aggravated assault, a respected judge allowed the  young Nanaimo police officer to retain his firearm — a rare act after a violent crime conviction, and one that may have effectively saved Pompeo’s job.

It may have been the best possible outcome for the former North Cowichan/Duncan cop, convicted 10 months earlier in the Sept. 18, 2009 shooting of an unarmed Bill Gillespie.

From the moment of the shooting, it took more than 50 months for the case to play out, months where delay became the norm, rather than the exception. Pompeo was charged May 5, 2011, convicted on Feb. 14, 2013 and finally sentenced Dec. 5.

Even now, there seems to be more questions than answers.

Questions such as why the judge ruled Pompeo’s flawed training wasn’t reason in itself to find the officer not guilty, but was a factor in his escaping jail time.

Questions like why it took the Victoria police so long to do the independent investigation that resulted in charges being laid against the well-liked officer and why the court case itself took so long to reach its conclusion?

Well, one thing is clear, the Mounties aren’t talking, but they did say in a release Pompeo’s status may be reviewed.

Here’s the official Mountie line, from E Division, the RCMP’s B.C. headquarters, on the day Pompeo was sentenced: “‘We’re aware of today’s proceedings and will review the written decision to determine its impact with respect to the member’s duty status and the ongoing Code of Conduct file. We’re aware that the conviction may be appealed so it’s important that we be reserved in our comment out of respect for that process.”

How a comment from one of Pompeo’s bosses would influence or affect the appeal was not explained and is just another one of those mysteries surrounding this case.

There are plenty of other questions being asked, not the least of which is how an officer convicted of a such a violent offence can keep his job, let alone his gun, when a conviction of aggravated assault normally earns serious sentences of up to 14 years in jail.

“(The weapons exemption) was very unusual,” said Raji Mangat, counsel for the B.C. Civil Liberties Assoc. of the Dec. 5 sentence handed down by Judge Josiah Wood.

“To my knowledge, a police officer convicted of aggravated assault has never been allowed to continue as a police officer,” she said.

“It’s possible it happened, but I really don’t think so and many of the people I’ve spoken to also have said they don’t believe that has ever happened.”

Wood said the matter was of serious concern to the public and the court, but there were circumstances that separated the officer’s case from a general aggravated assault case.

“I am satisfied there is no risk Const. Pompeo will commit either offences generally, or offences of a similar nature in the future,” Wood said in his reasons.

Pompeo received 24 months probation and 240 hours community service for shooting Gillespie, who said he was hoping for a more severe sentence.

“It’s not even a slap on the wrist,” a visibly shaken Gillespie told reporters outside court immediately after the sentence was read.

“I waited for over four years in the hope that some justice would be done,” he said.

“I sat in the courthouse and watched the defense ploys and manipulations and postponements while Pompeo went about his job like nothing had happened.”

During the approximately 1 1/2 hours it took to read the sentence, Wood said Pompeo seemed to be a responsible cop, but showed poor judgment when he shot Gillespie.

When he convicted Pompeo, Wood said the Mountie believed it was necessary to shoot Gillespie, but the officer’s belief was not based on reasonable grounds, but instead on “fear-induced stress.”

The Sept. 18, 2009 traffic stop was not routine as has been reported elsewhere — it never is when police have their weapons drawn as they exit their vehicle.

Court heard on that night Pompeo and his partner, Const. David Birchett, were driving an unmarked pickup when they pulled over Gillespie’s vehicle, suspecting he was driving while prohibited.

Gillespie testified he and his passenger, Dale Brewer, had been trying to find an AA meeting but decided instead to drive to Brewer’s Chemainus home.

The two officers pulled behind Gillespie and hit their red-and-blue emergency lights.

Gillespie said he drove no more than 21 metres from the main road into Brewer’s driveway after he saw flashing lights.

Gillespie said he panicked and was nervous with cops behind him.

“I figured there was nowhere to go so I just pulled into Dale’s driveway where I was going in the first place,” Gillespie said from the stand.

“Dale and I were both ordered out of the car at gunpoint,” Gillespie said. “I heard both officers. They were both shouting the same command — to get your hands on your head, get down on your knees and onto the ground.”

Gillespie, no stranger to cops and arrest procedures, said he wasn’t taking any chances

“I made bloody sure, that (Pompeo) knew that I had nothing in my hands.”

However, Pompeo testified at the Sept. 2012 trial that Gillespie got out of his vehicle without being told to do so and made “blatant movements and gestures making me believe he was armed.”

Seconds later Pompeo fired a single shot into Gillespie, hitting the prone man in the right trapezoid muscle.

It was later learned the bullet drilled its way to Gillespie’s spine, where it remains lodged to this day.

It was only by “chance and the greatest luck” that Gillespie didn’t die, said Wood.

“The fact that the bullet still remains lodged in his spine four years later suggests the fact that it will never be removed,” he said.

Pompeo’s sentence was tempered by the fact a harsher sentence, like one that involved some time behind bars or a firearms restriction, would have cost Pompeo his job.

That was met with outrage by some in the community, many who posted on the News Leader Pictorial’s websites.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out,” wrote Jacob Teufel. “Pompeo avoided jail time because if he’d gone to jail he’d be off the force. So what? A man who shoots another out of fear is not equipped to do the job.”

Derrick Marven agreed.

“We don’t need police officers like Pompeo in the force, at the least he should be removed from his job,” he wrote. “You might be the next unlucky victim to (be) apprehended by this man.”

Sue Dalrymple disagreed, saying the officer did not intend to shoot anyone, but, instead, was simply doing his job.

“The officer has to make a determination that will either mean he may be seriously hurt, or killed, or do something in self-defence,” she wrote. “I you are innocent and do not plan to harm that officer, then do what he asks of you.”

David Boyd, however, thinks the fact Pompeo was convicted says otherwise.

He wrote to the News Leader Pictorial to state he believed it was “absurd” that someone convicted of an offence involving a gun should be allowed to be a cop.

“A person who has (been) convicted of any criminal offence would never be considered for police training, so how does it make any sense to allow such a person to continue to serve on a police force?” he asked.

“I hope the Crown intends to appeal this verdict.”

Maybe, said Neil McKenzie, a spokesman for the Crown.

“We respect the decision of Judge Wood to impose the sentence he imposed,” he said outside court following the conviction.

While it’s “too early” to speculate whether the Crown would appeal, “we will review it carefully,” he said.

Reviews, however, just won’t cut it, said Mangat.

“There seems to be a real crisis of confidence amongst the Canadian public around how police are doing their jobs,” she said.

“I feel we have a really poor record in B.C. of police accountability and that inevitably results in the public having a real lack of faith in those that we’re supposed to rely on for our safety.

“We need to see some accountability and actions speak louder than words in that regard.”

Exactly how Pompeo feels about the whole experience has not been made available. He avoided the media throughout the trial, and dodged reporters after the sentencing was announced. He has not responded to subsequent News Leader Pictorial overtures for an interview made through third parties.

His defence has filed an appeal of the conviction and hearings were scheduled for Feb. 3 and 4.

Gillespie has indicated he plans to pursue civil action against the RCMP.

 

Will this case set a precedent?

So, a police officer receives a lenient sentence for a violent crime.

Is this a one-time incident with no real fallout?

Not according to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

“I think the sentence sets a very problematic precedent in that it really raises questions people in the public are asking about whether there’s actually a two-tiered system at play,” Raji Mangat, counsel for the B.C.CLA, told the News Leader Pictorial.

“I think that’s a real problem because it opens the door to the questions of: Are Mounties being sentenced on a different standard than a regular Canadian person? Is there something going on here that’s making Mounties subject to a different standard of justice than the rest of us?

“People have been calling us and expressing concern about that.”

The other concern is the precedent the sentence could set in similar cases, said Mangat.

“I think it’s also a problem for the Crown who has this precedent on the books, and if this is something that stands then it’s something defendants might try to argue,” she said.

“There are definitely some questions around whether this is going to be a sentencing decision that is going to enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system.”

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