Edmonton police officer who stole from crime scene keeps job after top court declines to hear chief’s appeal

Edmonton police officer who stole from crime scene keeps job after top court declines to hear chief’s appeal

Published Sep 17, 2023  •  Last updated 33 minutes ago  •  3 minute read

eps hq
Edmonton police headquarters. Postmedia, file

An Edmonton police officer who repeatedly stole cash while on duty has narrowly kept his job after Alberta’s highest court declined to hear the police chief’s appeal to reinstate his firing.

Const. David Ahlstrom was criminally charged in 2017 with stealing cash, cigarettes and prepaid credit cards on three separate occasions, including from a homicide scene. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to probation, and subsequently fired after an internal disciplinary hearing found he was no longer fit to serve as a police officer.

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However, the Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB), an independent civilian appeals body, heard Ahlstrom’s case and found the presiding officer at the disciplinary hearing made legal errors in deciding Ahlstrom’s punishment. The LERB concluded a two-year rank reduction was appropriate, in part due to Ahlstrom’s mental health issues.

In a decision issued Sept. 12, Court of Appeal Justice Jolaine Antonio found there were significant problems with how the LERB arrived at that conclusion. Nevertheless, she said Chief Dale McFee’s appeal — seeking a hearing before a full panel of judges — did not meet the test of raising a “significant question of law.”

“The questions of law the applicant (EPS) seeks to raise are well-settled,” she wrote. “Therefore, they cannot be considered significant questions of law warranting scrutiny by a panel of this court.”

“With some reluctance, I conclude that permission to appeal must be denied.”

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Ahlstrom was tasked with perimeter security at a homicide scene Oct. 4, 2016. During his shift, he entered the scene, leaving the perimeter unguarded, and took $300 in cash. The next day, he told his superiors he had taken the cash and was directed to log the money. Ahlstrom was placed on administrative duties while the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the province’s police watchdog, launched an investigation.

During the probe, ASIRT conducted two undercover “integrity tests” to gauge Ahlstrom’s propensity to steal. In 2017, an undercover officer approached him and handed him a bag he claimed to have found. Ahlstrom opened the bag and took $25 in cash along with two $50 gift cards.

A few months later, Ahlstrom was asked to help search a stolen vehicle and ended up taking $88 and two packs of cigarettes. ASIRT arrested him at the end of his shift.

Ahlstrom was charged with three counts each of theft and breach of trust and suspended without pay. He eventually pleaded guilty to two of the breach counts and was sentenced to 18 months of probation, plus $400 in victim fine surcharges. EPS then charged him with 10 counts of misconduct under the Police Act, all of which Ahlstrom admitted to.

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In deciding Ahlstrom’s punishment, Fred Kamins, the retired RCMP officer who presided over the hearing, heard conflicting evidence about the specifics of Ahlstrom’s illness. He ultimately agreed with lawyers for McFee that Ahlstrom could not remain an EPS officer. Kamins accepted Ahlstrom was dealing with mental health problems — including PTSD and depression — but found the severity of his misconduct outweighed those mental health concerns.

The LERB, however, took issue with how Kamins weighed evidence about Ahlstrom’s mental illnesses. The panel, made up of Victoria Foster, Mohamed Amery and David McKenzie, found Kamins’ reasons for firing were “not justifiable, intelligible, or transparent and the dismissal was not a reasonable outcome based on the facts and law.”

Antonio, however, said that finding was itself flawed.

“In my view, (Kamins’) reasons in assigning weight as he did to the expert evidence are intelligible and supportable,” she said. Antonio said that while the LERB was supposed to narrowly assess whether Kamins’ decision was reasonable, it instead “delved into a detailed reconsideration of the expert evidence and faulted the presiding officer for reaching conclusions with which it disagreed.”

Despite this, the board’s “legal failures” did not raise a novel legal issue or “indicate a pattern of disregard for its role in reasonableness review or otherwise implicate the integrity of the complaint process,” Antonio said.

Pat Nugent, Ahlstrom’s lawyer, declined to comment.

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