A Victoria courtroom erupted in violence Monday as a man who assaulted a Victoria police officer two years ago, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury, was sentenced to 15 months in jail.
Aaron Chaignon, 24, had been convicted Aug. 2 of assault causing bodily harm to Const. Jenny Lequesne, whose injuries ended her policing career.
Monday was set for sentencing, and sheriffs had cleared the hallway and were at the ready. Only lawyers for the Crown and defence, the accused and his parents, and Victoria Police Chief Del Manak were allowed in the courtroom.
Judge Karina Sacca asked Chaignon to stand. As soon as Sacca said the word jail, however, Chaignon began to scream, yelling: “I’m not going to jail. I’m not going to jail. I’m not going to jail.”
The sheriffs, who had been waiting in the hallway, rushed in, and the judge made a quick exit.
Chaignon, raging, screaming, kicking and flailing, was taken to the ground as sheriffs tried to calm him.
“Stop resisting. We’re here to help,” said one officer.
Minutes passed. Chaignon’s father left the courtroom in tears during the struggle.
Eventually, Chaignon was brought to his feet and moved from the courtroom to another room in the courthouse, where his sentencing — 15 months in jail followed by one year of probation — was concluded by phone. The phone had to be muted to silence his screams.
“There are no winners here,” Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said, shaking his head as he left the courtroom. “But it was important for me to be here today. I needed to be here for Const. Lequesne. I owed it to show her and all the other officers that attacks against our officers are unacceptable.”
The charges stemmed from an altercation on Oct. 27, 2019, when staff at a supportive housing unit asked Victoria police to check on Chaignon, who was shouting in his apartment and threatening to kill police.
Five officers responded to the call and, after talking to staff, decided to apprehend Chaignon under the Mental Health Act. They talked to Chaignon through the door and when he appeared to calm down, they instructed him to lie on the floor face down. When they opened the door, he was lying on the floor.
Lequesne handcuffed him, resting her knees on his back in the process. Chaignon lay still when he was being handcuffed. However, when Lequesne was about to stand up, Chaignon rolled on his side, pulled his knee toward his chest, and kicked his leg back downward, striking the officer in the face with his foot.
She was severely injured, and has lost the ability to see things up close, which means she cannot read bedtime stories to her children and is unable to use a computer or drive at night. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome and major depressive disorder.
Manak said Monday’s events in the courtroom show “our mental health system has failed us.”
“The extreme aggression and violence on hearing the judge’s decision on sentencing really highlights how broken the mental-health system is,” said the police chief.
Chaignon has a history of violence against police. Forensic psychiatric assessments found he was at high risk for violence and has a number of mental illnesses, said Manak.
“Why is an individual like this, who needs intensive mental health supports, living in supportive housing?” asked the chief. “I have an officer who has lost her identity, her career, her livelihood and suffered a traumatic brain injury. And we have an individual here that takes eight sheriffs to safely control him and take him into custody. It really highlights how changes are needed to our mental-health system. And this is the tip of the iceberg of what our officers are seeing on the street.”
Manak said jail is not the place for people like Chaignon with severe mental illness, who need intensive mental-health supports, and serious consideration needs to be given to involuntary care for individuals who cannot function in society.
“Why do we have to wait for someone to commit a criminal offence, ruin a police officer’s life before we come to the realization that the system is failing this individual?” asked Manak. “How many people and how many families are going to be destroyed on both sides?”
Manak said he was extremely grateful to the sheriffs for the use of their team tactics and de-escalation techniques to get Chaignon to co-operate. “I think they did an amazing job. This was a controlled setting, but it just shows how quickly things can escalate.”