James Burton Weaver has been sentenced to four years in jail, for ramming his SUV into two police cars and injuring a pair of Surrey RCMP officers two years ago.
The sentence means Weaver, 49, will serve another 194 days in jail – until Nov. 29 of this year – after credit for time served. He has been in custody for three years and 171 days.
In imposing the federal term Thursday afternoon in Surrey Provincial Court, Judge James Sutherland noted Weaver did not intend to target police on the day in question. But the fact that police officers were the victims is an aggravating factor nonetheless.
“The conduct was severe,” Sutherland said. “The injuries of Consts. (Bonnie) Sauve and (Erik) McFarlane were significant and lasting. The offence shook the local policing community.”
Arrested Jan. 27, 2014, Weaver was found guilty last November of two counts each of assault with a weapon and criminal negligence causing bodily harm, in connection with the daylight incident that occurred in the parking lot of the Newton RCMP detachment. Sauve had just entered her police cruiser when it was hit by Weaver’s Ford Explorer. The car was pushed into another cruiser, and McFarlane was pinned between the two.
In victim-impact statements heard in February, McFarlane described the incident as life-changing; Sauve “thought she was going to die.”
Sutherland noted a statement on behalf of the policing community expressed “it was felt that this was an attack… on the RCMP itself.”
“It reinforced the insecurity that officers feel in putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the citizens of the community they serve,” Sutherland said.
In submissions heard last month, prosecutor Nick Melling suggested a sentence of four to five years; defense counsel David Albert submitted that a term of 3½ to four years was reasonable.
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.)
Thursday, Sutherland named the fact Weaver knew there was potential for his ingesting crystal methamphetamine to lead to an “irrational, volatile and dangerous mental state” as among aggravating factors. He suffered at least five such episodes in the past, including one in 2009 that led to a 90-minute standoff with police in Burnaby, Sutherland noted.
That the decision to drive into the police cars was a “sudden, unpremeditated” one is among mitigating factors, he said.
Albert last month argued that society would be best-served by a sentence that focuses on rehabilitation. His client had been “clean and sober for years” leading up to the incident but had fallen off the wagon, Albert told the court. Weaver 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.”
Sutherland said while there is “reason for optimism” in Weaver’s rehabilitation, he noted a forensic psychiatrist who examined him found that Weaver is also at high-risk of another drug-induced psychotic episode if he does not continue to abstain.
At last month’s hearing, 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.”
Weaver’s sentence also includes three years probation and a six-year driving ban.