A three-year prison sentence for a man who drove a stolen car into a defenceless police officer outside Our Place last year serves notice that assaults on officers will not be tolerated, the injured officer said Wednesday.
“This incident happened at a time when there was a big trend of assaults and violence on police,” said Victoria police Const. Todd Mason, a 12-year veteran. “That needs to end. We need to protect the police because if we’re not around, who is going to protect the public. So I hope the sentence sends a message that police are not targets.”
Mason made the comments after Chance Nichol, a 28-year-old homeless man with a long-standing heroin addiction, was escorted out of the courtroom to begin serving his sentence. Nichol had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and assaulting a police officer with a weapon on Sept. 27, 2021. He had also pleaded guilty to mischief for smashing the windows of two downtown businesses.
Police officers, including Deputy Chief Jason Laidman, came to court in a show of support for Mason, who said he is happy the court process is over and he can start focusing on his physical recovery and mental health.
Mason suffered a “gross deformity to his right shoulder,” diagnosed as a “grade 4 separation.” He is expected to have surgery in a few weeks.
“It’s going to be an everyday battle probably for the rest of my life. So this hurdle is now out of the way I can concentrate on getting back to work. … It’s a job I love and I think I still have a lot to contribute.”
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said the three-year sentence sends a strong message of deterrence that “it’s not open season on police officers conducting their duties in an ethical manner.”
“It’s been almost a year,” said the chief. “Think about every day living with those scars, the ups and downs and emotional turmoil. And why? Because he was wearing a police uniform, minding his own business and keeping people safe.”
Admissions of fact read into the court record reveal that Nichol wanted to be arrested and carried out an increasing level of criminal activity until he ended up in jail.
Around 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 27, Nichol was taken by ambulance to Royal Jubilee Hospital, complaining of heroin withdrawal. He was discharged at 7:30 a.m. because he would not co-operate with treatment. Nichol took a bus to Oak Bay and found car keys in the 1300-block of Beach Drive that he was able to match to a 2008 Cobalt parked nearby, the admissions say.
Nichol stole the car and his erratic driving attracted public attention. He ended up on Pandora Avenue, where police were assisting bylaw enforcement officers. He stopped behind a marked police vehicle. Mason stood by the driver’s side window of the police vehicle talking to two officers.
Nichol rapidly accelerated the Cobalt toward the rear of the police car. Mason tried to jump out of the way but was hit. The officer hit the hood, front windshield and roof of the Cobalt and was propelled 15 feet in the air before striking the pavement. The car hit a garbage dumpster and came to a stop with one tire on Mason’s ankle.
The Cobalt accelerated to a speed of 38 km/h in the five seconds before impact, then began slowing. It hit the dumpster at a speed of 23 km/h, the admissions say.
After watching video of the incident, provincial court Judge Adrian Brooks said he was left with the impression that Nichol drove directly into Mason.
“Const. Mason could not retreat or avoid the vehicle. He was trapped. He was mowed down,” said Brooks, who found Nichol’s moral culpability to be very high.
Using a car as a weapon on a person who could not escape, a police officer doing his duty, is an extremely serious offence, said Brooks.
Psychological reports prepared for sentencing show Nichol had an unsettled upbringing and was on his own by age 13, sometimes housed, sometimes homeless. At age 16, he began heroin, a drug addiction that has controlled his life, Brooks said, in a review of the evidence.
The judge found it aggravating that Nichol’s dangerous driving put the community at risk as he drove through town, then drove toward a person who was “defenceless.” Also aggravating is Nichol’s criminal record.
Although the defence argued that Nichol’s moral culpability should be reduced by the fact he was dope sick and withdrawing from heroin, Brooks did not agree, saying Nichol failed to come to terms with his addiction when he knew how serious it was.
“He was aware he was not well and was dope sick and he chose to drive a motor vehicle that he had no right or ability to drive. … He was on a street with many people in front of him … and he chose to accelerate his vehicle with extreme force.”
Nichol’s early guilty plea is mitigating and he has performed well on bail, said the judge. His efforts towards rehabilitation are significant.
“A sentence should never operate to snuff off the prospects of rehabilitation,” said Brooks.
The Crown had asked for a sentence in the range of 41 to 48 months. Defence counsel had asked for a jail sentence of two years less a day.