Top News

Man sentenced for assaults during attempted escape at Halifax courthouse

A deputy sheriff stands in front of the doors to Halifax provincial court after the courthouse was closed because of an altercation inside the building on Thursday morning, Oct. 10, 2019.
A deputy sheriff stands guard outside the Halifax provincial courthouse Oct. 10, 2019, following an escape attempt by a man in custody. Mahmoud Ahmed Altawil pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer and two deputy sheriffs during the incident and received a three-year sentence this week. - Ryan Taplin

A man who assaulted a police officer and two deputy sheriffs during an attempted escape at the Halifax provincial courthouse in October 2019 has been handed a three-year sentence.

Mahmoud Ahmed Altawil, 25, pleaded guilty in Halifax provincial court this summer to a charge of aggravated assault and two counts of assaulting a peace officer.

Altawil was sentenced Tuesday by Judge Aleta Cromwell, who was appointed to the provincial court this July.

The judge gave him 18 months’ credit for his time on remand, leaving him with a sentence of 18 months going forward.

“These offences are very serious,” Cromwell said, “not only because they involved serious injury to a police officer and minor injuries to the deputy sheriffs, but because the offences occurred at a busy courthouse where all attending - including accused persons, complainants, youth, staff and others working in this environment - should feel safe and secure.

“Mr. Altawil’s actions put members of the public in danger.”

The incident happened on the morning Oct. 10, 2019, after Altawil was given a short jail term, a 455-day conditional sentence and two years’ probation on a variety of charges from 2018.

Altawil attempted to flee as he was being escorted from a courtroom by sheriffs. A Halifax Regional Police constable who was in the courthouse for another matter was tackled by Altawil and knocked down the building’s main staircase onto a landing.

As Const. Liam Campbell lay unconscious on the landing beside him, Altawil fought with several sheriffs and other officers. He was Tasered twice before he was finally subdued.

Campbell suffered a broken nose, a broken left forearm, an injured left wrist, a fracture on his upper lip bone, had multiple cuts and abrasions to his face and lost a front tooth.

The officer underwent surgery, was off work for some time and continues to require medical treatment for the injuries he sustained that day.

Deputy sheriffs Tyson Sinclair and Pat Carroll suffered hand and arm injuries, respectively, as they foiled Altawil’s escape.

The judge heard sentencing submissions last month. Crown attorney Rick Woodburn recommended six years in prison less remand credit. Defence lawyer Alex MacKillop asked for time served or, if further incarceration was necessary, 90 days to be served on weekends.

In her decision Tuesday, Cromwell said further jail time is required. She said that although Altawil’s rehabilitation has to be considered, the primary sentencing objectives must be denunciation and deterrence.

She said Altawil is only a few credits away from completing an economics degree at Saint Mary’s University and has the support of his family and girlfriend. Growing up, he was bullied at school because of his race, resulting in anxiety issues, and began to self-medicate with cannabis after he was injured playing football.

In 2018, he was charged with several offences over a six-month period. He assaulted a security guard at SMU who asked him to stop smoking inside a building, fled from police while driving with a revoked licence, fraudulently obtained a passport, stole more than $800 from one employer and almost $6,000 from another, breached release conditions numerous times and failed to attend court on three occasions.

“Mr. Altawil’s history demonstrates that he lacks maturity,” the judge said. “He fails to take responsibility for his actions; he has impulse-control issues and an inability to follow court orders.”

Since being remanded on the escape-related charges, he has obtained a prescription for anxiety medication, worked in the jail and completed a course called Options to Anger.

“I am sympathetic to (the) circumstances that he finds himself in today,” Cromwell said. “I agree with his counsel that this is a sad and unfortunate situation.

“I accept that he did not intend to injure anyone but was instead focused on escaping from custody due to his fear over returning to jail. The offence was not premeditated and no weapons were used.”

The judge said Altawil tried to minimize his actions and justify his attempt to escape when he addressed the court last month, but he later submitted a letter apologizing to the police officer and expressing remorse.

Cromwell also imposed a 10-year firearms prohibition and ordered Altawil to provide a DNA sample for a national databank. After he is released from jail, he has to serve the conditional sentence and probation order that he received in October 2019.

The Crown withdrew five other charges from the attempted escape.

“Mr. Altawil, I hope you’re able to move forward and get the help that you need and finish out your sentence and move on,” the judge said.

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories