James Burton Weaver should serve four to five years in jail for ramming his SUV into two police cars and injuring a pair of Surrey RCMP officers two years ago, provincial court heard Wednesday morning.
The Jan. 27, 2014 incident was “an attack on the community itself,” prosecutor Nick Melling told Judge James Sutherland, noting the officers represent the community as a whole.
But while defence counsel David Albert agreed the sentence range – along with three years probation – was appropriate, he disagreed with the suggestion that Weaver had set out to harm police that day.
“It’s what distinguishes this case from other cases, with respect to Mr. Weaver’s mental state,” Albert said. “It’s not a case of somebody going out to target the police.”
Weaver was found guilty last November of two counts each of assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm, in connection with the daylight incident that occurred in the parking lot of the Newton RCMP detachment. Consts. Bonnie Sauve and Erik McFarlane were both injured. McFarlane has said the incident was life-changing; Sauve “thought she was going to die,” Melling said.
Shortly before noon Wednesday, Weaver apologized to the court.
“It’s really unfortunate that all of this has happened,” he said. “I just want you to know that I apologize for putting the court through all this.
“I have no animosity toward the police. I apologize for everything.”
Earlier, in submitting that four to five years would be an appropriate term – along with a driving ban of eight to 10 years – Melling said mitigating factors include Weaver’s invitation to the court to find him guilty and the “huge challenges” Weaver has faced “from the very beginning of his life,” related to his aboriginal ancestry.
(Discovery of the latter point earlier this year delayed Weaver’s sentencing hearing by two months. Initially scheduled for Feb. 12 – victim-impact statements were heard that day – it was adjourned to enable time for a special pre-sentence report investigating his history and circumstances to be prepared.)
Aggravating factors include Weaver’s criminal history, that he knew his drug use could cause “toxic psychosis” – he had a similar reaction in 2009 that led to a 90-minute standoff with police in Burnaby, Melling said – and the conduct of the offence.
“His actions could have inflicted any amount of harm on the officers,” Melling said.
In addition, “many people saw this and were traumatized by it.”
While Melling acknowledged Weaver’s life history is “a very sad story” that includes homelessness, poverty, and drug use that started at age eight, he said those factors must be weighed against the seriousness of the crime.
“Truly, Mr. Weaver has led a very disadvantaged life. However… the offence we’re dealing with today is a serious, violent crime.”
In asking Sutherland to consider a term of 3½ to four years, Albert said society would be best-served by a sentence that focuses on rehabilitation, “in these very unusual and strange circumstances.”
Albert noted that Weaver had been “clean and sober for years” leading up to the incident, but had fallen off the wagon. He remembers being awake for three or four days prior, he added, and later told a psychiatrist that he had heard screaming voices in his head on the day in question that drove him to believe he had to kill himself or “give himself up to the evil entities.”
Albert noted that the episode in Burnaby involved police attempting to stop Weaver from killing himself. Until the Newton incident, none of Weaver’s psychotic episodes had resulted in him harming or trying to harm others, Albert said.
If the Crown’s suggested sentence is granted, Weaver would serve another seven to 19 months in jail, after credit for time served. As of Wednesday, he has been in custody for two years and 92 days.
Sutherland is scheduled to impose sentence on May 19.