Pubdate: Wed, 27 Feb 2013
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2013 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Jodie Sinnema and Keith Gerein


WHITECOURT - An Alberta sheriff was shot in the hand Tuesday morning
inside the town courthouse, leading to the brief escape of two
prisoners who stole the sheriffs' transport van.

Kathlene Campbell-Conlon, a radio reporter with 96.7 The Rig, was
attending docket court proceedings in the building's lone courtroom
when the shooting happened around 11:30 a.m.

Sitting directly behind the Crown lawyer and looking through her
notebook, Campbell-Conlon heard a noise from behind the prisoner door
leading to the courtroom.

"All of a sudden, you heard a kerfuffle," she said.

The sheriff, normally sitting beside the prisoner bench, leaped up.
Once he went behind the door, Campbell-Conlon, 23, heard high-pitched
screams and two or three gunshots.

"I've never heard a gunshot before," she said. "I didn't know what to

Unidentified fragments, perhaps pieces of the wall, began flying in to
the room,and Campbell-Conlon was hit by one of them in the right knee.

Campbell-Conlon rushed out of the courtroom along with 30 to 40 other

When they got outside and were standing near the north side of the
building, she heard people screaming for 911 and medical help. She saw
a white transport van in the back parking lot, the outline of someone
in the driver's seat, then another man getting into the passenger seat
before the van took off.

"It was scary," said Campbell-Conlon, who is from Milton, Ont., near
Toronto, but has been working in Whitecourt for 16 months.

The sheriff's wound is not life threatening.

The suspects sped out of town southbound on Highway 32 but were
arrested a short time after the shooting.

Travis Fast witnessed police arrest three young men, estimated to be
in their 20s, near his father's acreage.

Fast drove by a property about eight kilometres down Highway 32,
heading south out of Whitecourt, when he noticed a white transport van
with its lights on, parked off the highway.

"I thought it was kind of goofy because it was pressed against the
fence with the lights on," said Fast, 35.

He didn't think much of it because he had heard the prisoners escaped
in a police car.

But when he came back, he saw two police cars blocking the driveway to
the property and officers leaning on a car, guns drawn.

"I heard a couple of shots go off," Fast said. He said he thinks the
shots came from the white van.

Soon he saw one man surrender, kneeling down before being handcuffed.
A second and third man followed soon after.

Fast said it all happened between 12:15 and 12:30 p.m.

At the courthouse, yellow police tape remained stretched across the
whole north side of the brick and stucco building late Tuesday,
including the back doors that lead to the parking lot. Several RCMP
officers stood guard at the building, which remained on lockdown as of
3 p.m.

Whitecourt Mayor Trevor Thain said as soon as the incident happened,
the town initiated a lockdown of all schools and recreational facilities.

He said he thinks the prisoners were among those arrested last
Thursday in a drug bust in Whitecourt, about 180 kilometres northwest
of Edmonton. Police said six people were taken into custody and
charged after a raid, which found cocaine, methamphetamine and
marijuana, as well as an illegal firearm.

According to a police news release from the time of the arrest, the
six were from Whitecourt and were due in court Tuesday.

RCMP released no details on how the prisoners obtained a gun, though
Alberta Justice spokeswoman Michelle Davio said sheriffs carry sidearms.

She said that unlike big city courthouses, circuit courts such as
Whitecourt do not have metal detectors at entrances, though there are
other security procedures in place.

Thain said the incident shows the province should review those safety
procedures, including transport regulations for prisoners.

"We don't normally have hardened criminals within Whitecourt as a
rule," Thain said. "Our court isn't really designed for that.

"I think hardened criminals should actually not come to our community
and (their cases) be done at a more central location."

He suggested the solicitor general's office determine if a metal
detector is needed in his town.

"If we are one of the few places that doesn't have it, then my
suggestion is that they put one in," he said.

Davio said she could not provide any further details due to the
ongoing RCMP investigation. She said, for security reasons, she could
not confirm whether prisoner transport vans are equipped with GPS
locator technology.

Alberta's sheriffs work for the province's Solicitor General.
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