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Tuesday September 02, 2014

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    Home »  News »  National News

    Calgary reservist avoids jail in deadly Afghanistan training accident


    Maj. Darryl Watts (right) and lawyer Balfour Der arrive for court martial proceedings in Calgary, on Nov. 14, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

    CALGARY - A Canadian Forces reservist has avoided jail for his role in a deadly training accident in Afghanistan and is being allowed to stay in the military.

    But Maj. Darryl Watts is being demoted by two ranks to lieutenant and is to receive a severe reprimand.

    He was convicted at a court martial late last year of unlawfully causing bodily harm and negligent performance of military duty during the exercise near Kandahar city three years ago.

    Cpl. Josh Baker, 24, was killed and four other soldiers were injured when an anti-personnel mine misfired and shot hundreds of steel ball bearings in the wrong direction.

    Defence lawyer Balfour Der said the sentence could have been worse.

    "From what we were working with, it's not a bad sentence. It's a heck of a lot better than this man going to jail or this man being kicked out of the Army," Der said Wednesday after the sentencing. "If ever there's someone convicted of a crime who deserves a lenient sentence it would be this fellow."

    Der said Watts, who is a Calgary firefighter, is pleased he's not going to jail and is being allowed to keep his military job.

    "In other respects, he's not very happy of being convicted or being demoted, but truth be told he probably breathes a sigh of relief."

    The Calgary Fire Department issued a news release calling Watts a ``well-respected member`` and saying he would be allowed to continue to serve as a firefighter.

    Der said it's highly probable that he will file an appeal of both the guilty verdicts and the sentence.

    Cmdr. Peter Lamont, who acted as judge at the court martial, said he did not consider it appropriate to dismiss Watts.

    "I believe the offender can continue to make a contribution to the Canadian Forces," Lamont said.

    "He can continue to be a highly effective officer," added Lamont. "Rank can be lost ... it can also be regained."

    Watts, 44, stood at attention during sentencing. There was no visible reaction.

    Maj. Dylan Kerr, who prosecuted the case, said it's not up to him to decide if his side will appeal the sentence. He said cases such as this one, where someone is not directly responsible, are more complicated.

    "It's much more difficult when you're talking about someone like Lt. Watts who has been held in high regard and has otherwise performed very well," said Kerr.

    "However, it is important to recognize in cases where a person has a responsibility to take action and does not take action that they also have to be held accountable."

    Kerr had argued that Watts, who was the platoon commander, didn't enforce safety standards and abdicated his duty as leader when he handed over responsibility for safety on the training range to Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale.

    The prosecution wanted Watts to spend 18 months in jail.

    The defence suggested Watts's blame worthiness was on the low end of the scale, since no one could have predicted what his lawyer called a "freak accident." Der suggested a reprimand would suffice.

    Lamont disagreed with both.

    "I have concluded the sentencing position of the prosecution is too severe," he said.

    But he dismissed Der's request as "wholly insufficient to address the degree of responsibility of the offender.

    "Maj. Watts was directly responsible for all members of his platoon," he said. "An officer can delegate tasks but cannot delegate responsibility."

    The court martial heard that the range was divided into four training sections that day. The first two tests of the anti-personnel mine went off without a hitch. But when the second firing occurred, the ball bearings fired backwards, hitting Baker and the others.

    Videos show several soldiers, including Watts, standing around watching the test. They are not inside armoured vehicles or standing behind them for cover as set out in safety regulations.

    Watts's commanding officer, Maj. Christopher Lunney, pleaded guilty in September to negligent performance of duty, was demoted to captain and given a severe reprimand.

    Ravensdale, who has since retired, was convicted last week of unlawfully causing bodily harm, two counts of breach of duty and one count of negligent performance of military duty. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for next month.


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