WESTLOCK — An Edmonton man who committed a “borderline robbery” at a Clyde gas station, crashed a stolen vehicle in Westlock County, tried to steal another vehicle and then assaulted an RCMP officer was sentenced last week to roughly a year and a half in prison.
At Westlock Court of Justice Sept. 13, Steven Lane Findlater maintained his not guilty plea to theft of a motor vehicle but pleaded guilty instead to attempted theft of a vehicle. He also pleaded guilty to assault a peace officer with the intent to resist arrest.
At a previous court date, Findlater had entered guilty pleas to uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm, possession of stolen property over $5,000 and operation of a vehicle while prohibited by a court order. Eleven other charges were withdrawn.
Justice Gregory Rice sentenced Findlater to a total of 600 days in prison, including 120 days on the uttering threats charge, 180 days for the possession charge, 90 days for driving while prohibited, 120 days for the attempted theft and 90 days for the assault.
Because Findlater has been in custody for a total of 355 days, that equated to a total of 533 days on an enhanced credit basis, leaving with 67 days left to serve.
Justice Rice also imposed a 10-year weapons prohibition and a one-year driving prohibition, as well as a DNA order.
Facts of the case
Crown prosecutor Anthony Estephan said that on Jan. 9, 2021, at approximately 8:25 a.m., Findlater drove a stolen 2015 Chevrolet Silverado customized flatbed truck, which was valued at approximately $80,000, to the FasGas station near Clyde.
While he didn’t specify how the truck came into Findlater’s possession, Estephan noted he was aware that the Chevy Silverado was stolen and he did not have the owner’s permission to drive it. Also, Findlater was subject to a two-year driving prohibition imposed in November 2020.
Estephan said Findlater entered the gas station and made a death threat against the attendant if he wasn’t provided free gas. The attendant believed the threat and turned on the outdoor pumps, though when Findlater exited the gas station, the attendant locked the doors behind him and called the police.
Findlater drove to a rural residence along Range Road 253 in Westlock County where he crashed the truck into the fenceline. The couple at the residence were alerted to Findlater’s presence both by the noise of the crash and the fact it caused the electricity to turn off in their home, court heard.
Exiting the truck, which was now undriveable and “unsalvageable,” Estephan said Findlater then attempted to enter a parked Kenworth truck owned by the couple. However, one of the residents confronted Findlater, who requested a ride into town.
The request was declined and the couple called the police, Estephan said. At that point, a neighbour had approached the scene in their truck, and Findlater attempted to enter that vehicle but couldn’t because the doors were locked.
At that point, two RCMP constables arrived on the scene. Estephan said Findlater returned to the crashed Chevy Silverado and retrieved a banana knife, which he concealed under his coat that was draped over one arm.
Before things could escalate, however, one of the residents asked Findlater “what do you got there,” and at that point Findlater dropped the knife on the ground, court heard.
One of the constables then informed Findlater he was under arrest, but when she attempted to handcuff Findlater, he “abruptly turned and elbowed (the constable) in the face,” Estephan said.
A minute-long struggle then ensued, though with the assistance of the resident and the neighbour, the constables were able to take Findlater to the ground, court heard.
Estephan noted the constable who had been elbowed in the face also felt her hair being pulled and Findlater make contact with the back of her head, which she understood to be a punch. She suffered some bruising and soreness as a result of this incident.
Eventually, Findlater was taken to the RCMP detachment. “It was clear to the officers that the accused was intoxicated by some form of drug or substance,” Estephan said.
The Crown’s recommendation for sentencing was a total of 750 days, including 120 days for the uttering threats, 180 days on the possession of stolen property, 90 days on the driving while prohibited, and 180 days each on the attempted theft and the assault charges. Estephan also requested the weapons and driving prohibition, as well as the DNA order.
Estephan characterized all of the offences as very serious, noting in particular that the threats charge was a “borderline robbery."
He noted that he had spoken to the owner of the Chevy Silverado, and while he was not seeking any restitution, he noted that, on top of the financial costs associated, he had been inconvenienced by the loss of his vehicle and the time it took to come out from Edmonton and get it towed.
Estephan also took note of Findlater’s four-page criminal record, which included 28 convictions for non-compliance with a court order and 17 property-related convictions.
“When we look at his history and we see what happened here, the Crown is suggesting that Mr. Findlater has been down this road multiple times, and of course, he certainly knew what he was doing here,” Estephan said.
The mitigating factor in this case was his guilty plea, which did not come early but nevertheless showed he was taking responsibility for his actions.
Overall, “a significant custodial sentence is warranted,” Estephan said.
Defence lawyer Gary Smith instead recommended a global sentence of 510 days, which would effectively put Findlater in a time served situation. That would include 90 days on the threats, 180 days on the possession, 60 days on the driving while prohibited, and 90 days on the attempted theft and assault.
Smith acknowledged that this was not an early guilty plea but that wasn’t Findlater’s fault, as there were “significant factual issues” in the case that had to be worked out.
He also pointed out that, while Findlater had an extensive record, these were the first violent offences he had been charged with.
Smith then noted his 39-year-old client had not sat idly during the year he spent in custody; he had completed an anger management program and had been in contact with a “sober living” facility in Edmonton which would be able to facilitate treatment upon his release.
Smith said Findlater had also been accepted into the Integrated Offender Management Program, which was launched by the RCMP last fall. This program aims to reduce crime by proactively addressing the root causes.
Smith also pointed out that Findlater had prospects for employment upon release and was hoping to re-connect with his children.
“This gentleman certainly has a path moving forward to stay out of the criminal justice system,” Smith said.
Justice Rice agreed that Findlater’s offences were all serious in nature, noting in particular that the theft of vehicles in rural areas is a “total scourge” and agreeing with the Crown that the incident at the gas station was “borderline robbery.”
While his guilty plea was mitigating, Justice Rice also noted Findlater’s record demonstrated a pattern of committing crimes, being sentenced and then committing more crimes, all as a result of his methamphetamine addiction.
“Anybody in the gallery: if you want your life to absolutely go into the toilet, start taking meth,” he said.