A former gymnastics instructor and ex-bylaw officer pleaded guilty to a charge of luring Tuesday, admitting to sending a sexually explicit image to a teen he once coached.
Ricky Lee Sutherland, 50, appeared in a Yellowknife courtroom for what was supposed to be day-one of a four-day trial in NWT Supreme Court.
Instead, after reaching a late plea agreement with prosecutors, Sutherland pleaded guilty to one count of luring a person under the age of 18 for the purpose of facilitating a child pornography offence. A conviction – formally entered by Justice Louise Charbonneau on Tuesday – carries a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail.
Sutherland intends to launch a constitutional challenge against the mandatory jail term to argue for a lower sentence.
Sutherland, who now lives in Ontario, was hired as a municipal enforcement division (MED) constable in February 2015, city records show.
According to an agreed statement of facts read in court, Sutherland began coaching gymnastics at a city club in July 2016. Prior to his new job at the club, Sutherland volunteered with the same collective while still working as an MED officer for the city of Yellowknife.
In the fall of 2016, Sutherland and all other staff were warned not to befriend gymnasts on social media.
Between Feb. 11 and Feb. 12, 2017, according to the admitted facts, Sutherland – in Toronto at the time – sent the female victim multiple SnapChat messages.
SnapChat, a social media app popular among young people, allows users to send photos and messages that disappear after a few seconds.
The court heard Sutherland’s penis was visible in at least one of the SnapChat photos he sent to the victim.
When he returned to Yellowknife, Sutherland admitted to coaching staff he’d sent inappropriate photos to the victim.
He was fired as a result.
Sutherland, the court heard, later texted the victim to apologize before he had been charged.
‘I hate what you did to me’
“Rick wholeheartedly used to be one of my best friends,” wrote the victim in an impact statement read in court by prosecutor Morgan Fane.
“He taught me to be myself, not only in sports, but in life. You made me feel like I could do anything I set my mind to,” the victim wrote.
But she stated, Sutherland “sadly,” turned out not to be the person she thought he was.
“You took advantage of my innocence,” wrote the victim,” adding she was “beyond confused and scared,” when the offences took place. “I felt so betrayed.”
The victim now struggles with paranoia, often not wanting to leave her home. When she hears Sutherland’s name, she “shakes.”
Sometimes, the court heard, the victim asks herself “why would you choose me?” But the victim is thankful, she wrote, that what happened to her didn’t happen to other gymnasts.
“I feel haunted by you everyday. I can’t say I hate you, but I hate what you did to me,” wrote the victim.
Mandatory minimum challenge set for July
Now convicted, Sutherland won’t be sentenced until after he has made submissions to challenge the mandatory one-year sentence for luring.
Arguments from Sutherland’s defence and the Crown are expected to take place in Yellowknife on July 2.