After seven years and three trials, a Newfoundland police officer convicted of raping a woman in her home while on duty in 2014 was sentenced on Friday to four years in prison.
Constable Carl Douglas Snelgrove of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary looked down at his feet as Justice Vikas Khaladkar read the sentence in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court. He shook his head as Justice Khaladkar said he must be registered as a sex offender for 20 years.
Friday’s sentencing brought the harrowing legal proceedings against Constable Snelgrove one step closer to completion, after the case had been brought to trial three times. The first trial in 2017 was successfully appealed, and the second, in 2020, ended in a mistrial owing to a judge’s error.
The victim, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, testified each time, forced to recount agonizingly personal details about the December night she accepted Constable Snelgrove’s offer of a ride home after she had been out dancing and drinking in downtown St. John’s.
“Most victims in her circumstances never come forward at all,” Justice Khaladkar said as he read his reasoning for the sentence. “Many who do are unable to continue.”
The judge referred to her victim-impact statement, in which she wrote she had been traumatized by the sexual assault as well as the court process. She is now medicated for depression and anxiety and often feels unsafe in her own home, Justice Khaladkar said, again referring to her statement. She tried to take her own life by overdosing on pills and she had to move away from St. John’s, he added.
No sentence could relieve the woman of her trauma or its repercussions, the judge told the court.
Justice Khaladkar noted the victim testified that she took the ride home from Constable Snelgrove, a uniformed police officer sitting in a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary cruiser, because she was worried she would be assaulted in a taxi. She trusted Constable Snelgrove in his position as a police officer, Justice Khaladkar said, adding that it was that trust, and breach thereof, that informed much of his sentencing decision.
“The sentence I impose today must send a message to other persons in positions of power and authority, in particular police officers,” Justice Khaladkar said. The four-year sentence was “not to rehabilitate,” he added, noting that he felt Constable Snelgrove is unlikely to reoffend.
The judge told the court he had a hard time finding any other Canadian cases in which a uniformed, on-duty police officer had been convicted and sentenced for sexual assault.
Outside the Supreme Court building after the judge read his sentence, Crown prosecutor Lloyd Strickland hugged the complainant before she left with a group of family and friends. Mr. Strickland told reporters that he, too, hadn’t found a similar case.
Friday’s decision, he said, “certainly seems to have set a standard for sentencing in these sort of cases.”
Constable Snelgrove and his defence team, led by lawyer Randy Piercey, have 30 days to appeal.
The Snelgrove case rocked St. John’s, with each trial sparking demonstrations in solidarity with the woman as well as fierce protests when the officer was first acquitted in 2017.
St. John’s lawyer Lynn Moore has said the woman’s persistence with the case has “opened a can of worms.” Since the guilty verdict in May, more than a dozen women have approached her with sexual-assault allegations against nine different Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers, one of whom is still with the force, Ms. Moore said.
Mike King, director of Newfoundland and Labrador’s police oversight agency, said Friday his office is investigating sexual-assault charges against three officers with the force as well as an officer with the RCMP, which shares policing duties in the province with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.
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