Former RCMP Cpl. Benjamim Monty Robinson is expected to learn his fate next Friday (July 27) in New Westminster Supreme Court when a sentence in his obstruction of justice case is handed down.
As might be expected there was a wide gulf in terms of punishment expectations separating Crown and defence lawyers at a sentence hearing that concluded Friday (July 20) afternoon.
Robinson, dressed in a fitted, dark-coloured suit, stared straight ahead during the proceedings. He offered no comment to the media after the sentencing hearing.
Crown prosecutors stated they are seeking a three to nine-month jail term for Robinson who was convicted this spring of obstruction of justice in the October 2008 motor vehicle accident death of 21-year-old Tsawwassen motorcyclist Orion Hutchinson (seen below).
Crown lawyer Kris Pechet told the court the sentence should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender, in this case a police officer in a position of authority.
“What has happened here was the acts of Mr. Robinson effectively prevented or perverted or sidetracked or defeated the course of the Delta Police officers’ investigation into the blood alcohol levels at the time of the motor vehicle accident of October 25 2008,” said Pechet.
Robinson’s lawyer David Crossin asked the judge for a conditional sentence of three to six months, including time spent in an alcohol rehab facility.
“In my view, the shame and paralysis that resulted from the weight and the publicity and the vitriol in this community basically rooted him [Robinson] in a kind of purgatory,” Crossin told the court.
Crossin also submitted a letter from the Edgewood rehab facility—whose website describes it as a private residential facility in Nanaimo specializing in addiction treatments and substance abuse therapy—stating Robinson has been sober for the past 100 days.
Robinson entered rehab March 30 and is expected to complete his treatment Aug. 23. The court heard that Robinson began drinking at an early age, substance abuse runs in his family – and alcohol was a factor in the breakup of his marriage.
The defence provided a letter of support from RCMP Supt. Rendall Nesset of the Richmond detachment where Robinson was stationed.
Nesset wrote that Robinson was a well respected member of this detachment, had sound investigative leadership and communication skills, and displayed excellent leadership qualities throughout his service in Richmond.
The letter also stated the RCMP Richmond detachment’ senior management team considered Robinson a stellar performer and an asset to the organization.
Crossin said Robinson’s former superiors in Richmond “believe he could still be useful within the police force.”
The Crown explored a cross-Canada survey of sentences for police officers convicted of various crimes when determining an appropriate sentence, while also taking into account the difficulties a police officer would experience while incarcerated.
Pechet referenced the case of a police officer who stole $425 from a car that he stopped while on duty; he was given a one day sentence. On the other end of the scale, a police officer, with mental and alcohol problems, who broke into a residence and attacked the occupants while off duty was given an 18-month jail sentence.
From the Crown’s perspective, Robinson should not be held accountable in this sentencing for his manner of driving, or for any suspicion of causing the accident, said Pechet, but rather the “moral blameworthiness”.
“In general, a crime of obstruction of justice is a crime which strikes to the heart of the system,” added Pechet.
The defence argued that Robinson should receive a similar sentence that has been imposed on similar offenders in comparable circumstances. Crossin looked at two cases, including that of Victoria Police officer Const. Ravinder Dosanjh, who was given a three-month conditional sentence for obstruction of justice, for guidance.
In the Dosanjh case, the officer gave some advice over the phone to a relative of his that was deemed to be encouraged by the obstruction of justice, described Pechet.
“It was not for his own benefit and that was an important factor to the sentencing judge,” added Pechet. “So in this particular case Mr. Robinson engaged in a series of acts, chain of events, all carried about by him for his own benefit.”
“These were not simply the acts of a basically trained officer, constable…. These acts occurred from an officer who had special training and expertise provided to him at the time of the RCMP, on their time and at the expense of the public ultimately.”
In his closing arguments, Crossin said denunciation can be addressed with sentences well short of incarceration. He also addressed Robinson’s Aboriginal status.
“The fact is Mr. Robinson is an Aboriginal offender …,” said Crossin. “I have discussed this issue with my client and we are agreed that this is not a case where that issue is front and centre. But the only issue I would ask the court to consider in that regard is the issue of alcohol abuse in the aboriginal context.
On the defence’s call for a conditional sentence, Kasey Schell, Hutchinson’s step-sister, said, “I think that’s a little silly. I think that maybe he should be made an example of for the RCMP.”
Schell added she felt Robinson has not displayed any remorse, adding, “his silence so far has been just cowardly to me.”
Making a victim’s impact statement in court, Hutchinson’s father Glenn, a Delta firefighter, shakily revealed his difficulty in dealing with his son’s death.
He said how he has now become part of an exclusive club of bereaved parents with the most “expensive dues on the planet”.
Glenn recalled the last moments he spent with his son, “an amazing person” who he had enjoyed having intellectual conversations with.
“…the last time I saw him at the funeral home where I rubbed and pulled his hair while talking to him exactly how I had done when he was younger to help his busy mind go to sleep,” said a sobbing Glenn.
“I’ve lost a future with my son, and since the funeral I’ve lost a relationship with my loving, caring daughter. The unbearable combination of these two losses and the failure to cope resulted ultimately in a compromised sanity. I became mentally unbalanced, my core values failed me.”
Glenn said he lost his career along with the best relationship he had ever been in, which led to a downward spiral.
“The only logical solution was to finish it all. I simply had nothing left to live for,” said Glenn, adding that after taking care of his personal details he “tried multiple times”, but bizarre events prevented his death.
“So right now – aside from still being alive – I have nothing,” he said.
“But from the onset of this trial I understood that no matter what the outcome was there was never going to be satisfaction, justice or anything that would come close to replacing the loss of my beautiful son.”
Also attending the sentence hearing was Tsawwassen’s Judy Nordlund who lives near where Hutchinson was killed and has an adult son who rides a motorcycle. She said she was not anti-police, adding, “It’s more sickening when it involves an officer of the law.”
After the crash at 64 Ave. and Gilchrist Dr. in Tsawwassen (see photo below) nearly four years ago, Robinson gave his driver’s licence to a bystander and left the scene to walk his children home.
When he returned, he told police he had downed two shots of vodka at home to calm his nerves.
During his eight-day trial this past February, a Crown witness revealed that, at a 2007 Christmas party, Robinson had given partygoers tips on how to beat a drunk driving charge.
The defense countered that Robinson had “severe” alcohol dependency at the time of the collision.
Hutchinson’s family had called for Robinson to be stripped of his badge.
Friday morning, RCMP officials announced Robinson was no longer a member of the force.
RCMP Dep. Comm. Craig Callens said he signed papers to discharge Robinson.
“While I have been clear that I was seeking his involuntary dismissal, the opportunity to discharge him from the organization this morning was one which eliminated further delays, costs and uncertainty,” Callens said in a statement.
“Mr. Robinson’s career with the RCMP has ended,” he said. “As a private citizen he is no longer subject to any disciplinary actions under the RCMP Act, however, he is still subject to the ongoing criminal matters.”
Robinson was also the most senior of the four Mounties involved in the 2007 tasering death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport.
The incident led to the Braidwood Inquiry and Robinson and the other three officers face charges of perjury as a result of their testimony there.
—with files from Philip Raphael