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RCMP officer given probation after bringing handgun to Williams Lake Stampede

Cst. Olavo Castro received a 12-month probation order with 20 hours of community service for bringing a personal firearm to the Williams Lake Stampede on July 1, 2022.
The Williams Lake courthouse. Submitted

An RCMP officer with BC Highway Patrol charged in connection with an off-duty incident in Williams Lake has been sentenced. 

Cst. Olavo Castro received a 12-month probation order with 20 hours of community service for bringing a personal firearm to the Williams Lake Stampede on July 1, 2022.

The Nov. 30, 2023 court ruling notes Castro had a silver and black handgun in his lap while driving, observed by two witnesses who say Castro pulled up in a silver Ford pickup and stated “do we have a problem here” as they were leaving the stampede grounds. 

"The situation was diffused after conversation and a hand shake," adds the ruling, with Castro and the witnesses parting ways.

The two witnesses then alerted police about the interaction, and Castro was found with the description they provided. Castro was detained by police around 2 am at the stampede grounds, and an officer issued an immediate roadside driving prohibition after noticing the smell of alcohol on Castro's breath. 

Castro became emotional and started crying after being arrested, noted the ruling, and shared that he was struggling with PTSD. Police apprehended him under the Mental Health Act and brought Castro to the local hospital.  After treatment, Castro was escorted home by police.  

A search warrant was obtained and executed for Castro's truck, with police seizing a Smith and Wesson handgun, a restricted firearm. The seized gun was not Castro’s service pistol. 

The ruling explained that Castro's PTSD stems from a traumatic incident he attended, where a person was shot in the neck, and blood from the victim spread to Castro's face, in his eyes, and on other parts of his uniform. Castro was removed from duty in December 2021 as a result of the trauma. 

Castro also sought support for his mental health, but began self-medicating with alcohol and cannabis, after finding that support was limited. 

In May 2022, Castro saw a psychiatrist, and was diagnosed him PTSD, cannabis use disorder in early remission, and persistent depressive disorder, which they said was a consequence of “cumulative exposure to operational trauma as an RCMP member complicated by early life experiences”.

Castro entered into a Aftercare Treatment Agreement with the RCMP in October 2022, committing to abstinence from alcohol and drugs. The program entails 16 meetings, connecting with group support and a mentor, and participating in regular drug screening to ensure abstinence. 

"The agreement is active for a two year period with the exception of the first term where he agrees to be abstinent from alcohol and all other mood altering drugs for the rest of his career with the RCMP," notes the ruling. Castro also completed treatment at the Homewood Ravensview Treatment Centre from Aug. 23, 2022 to Oct. 25, 2022. 

Ten support letters were entered as evidence in the proceedings, with testimony from family, friends, fellow RCMP, and firefighters, saying they felt Castro's actions were out of character. 

"At the core of this offence is Mr. Castro’s struggles with his mental health that is a source of the trauma he encountered while engaged in his duties as a police officer.  I find that Mr. Castro was aware of the decline in his mental health and was actively seeking support prior to the offence date to no avail," wrote Justice Raymond Phillips in the ruling. 

"This is unfortunate as it seemed preventable, had the RCMP listened to Mr. Castro and put him on a meaningful path to recovery," Phillips added. 

Castro could still potentially lose his job if he doesn't adhere to the abstinence agreement, and internal disciplinary hearings were expected last fall or sometime in early 2024. Phillips noted he feels Castro has taken responsibility for the incident. 

"I believe he is very capable of continuing in his service to the community as a police officer now that he is on a path to recovery.  I also expect the RCMP will approach disciplinary proceedings through a supportive lens," wrote Phillips, noting public safety was heavily considered in the ruling, due to a targeted shooting injuring two people at the stampede on July 3, just two days later. 

"I expect the community and rodeo organizers have no tolerance for the presence of firearms at the stampede," Phillips added.