Judge puts Bird back in the cage

Long-time Campbell River criminal sentenced following violent struggle with RCMP

A year in jail this time for Robert “Bird” Nelson, probably penitentiary the next, warned judge Adrian Brooks.

Nelson, a Campbell River man with a long criminal record, has been behind bars since his violent arrest on Aug. 20.

He has now amassed 73 convictions after pleading guilty to six new charges on Monday in Campbell River provincial court. Most of the convictions are for property offences and violating court orders, but he was also convicted of manslaughter by a Prince George jury in 2011.

Nelson spent about 34 months behind bars for causing another man’s death,  when he was released in May 2012, after serving the equivalent of a five-year sentence. He showed up for the first meeting with his parole officer, but wasn’t seen again, until leading police on a precarious car chase through the snowy and icy streets of Prince George on Dec. 26, 2012.

He eluded Mounties that Boxing Day and warrants were issued for his immediate arrest.

Last Aug. 20, around 7 p.m., Campbell River RCMP received word that Nelson was involved in an assault-in-progress near Discovery Pier. The first undercover officer to arrive on the scene spotted the black suspect vehicle leaving the parking lot. The licence plate matched, and Nelson was also in the vehicle.

The officer recognized Nelson and followed him to an apartment parking lot where the car stopped. Knowing Bird’s history, the officer slipped on his bullet-proof vest and approached the vehicle.

After a woman got out of the car, the officer blocked the door Nelson attempted to exit from, identified himself and told Bird he was under arrest.

According to Crown prosecutor Bruce Goddard, who read from the police report, a violent altercation ensued between the two. Nelson body-checked the officer and fled and foot, but was quickly tackled, resulting in melee where the officer was struck at least once in the head.

The struggle continued with the officer threatening to Taser Nelson, but finally using a collapsible baton to strike back at his attacker.

In the scuffle that followed, Nelson lost his shirt and shoe as he attempted to flee, but the officer pinned him against a fence and used chokehold to subdue a flailing Bird until two other police officers arrived. A search of the vehicle also turned up a small amount of cocaine.

Goddard also documented Nelson’s Boxing Day car chase with Prince George RCMP. The Honda Civic he was driving reached speeds up to 100 kilometres an hour on the icy and snowy streets, leading police to call off the chase due to safety reasons.

On July 14, 2009, Nelson assaulted Prince George tattoo artist Darren Lee Paterson, 29, over a debt.

Nelson struck Paterson in the stomach with a collapsable baton and then punched him in the head, knocking the man to the ground.

Paterson was briefly knocked out and later went home, but that afternoon he called for an ambulance. He died that night in hospital from a head injury.

On Monday in Campbell River provincial court, Nelson pleaded guilty to two counts of fleeing police, one count of assaulting a police officer, possession of cocaine, and two counts of violating court orders.

In a joint recommendation by the Crown and the defence, Judge Brooks accepted the year in jail, minus the time Nelson has served since his arrest.

Defence lawyer Doug Marion said Nelson is in a common-law relationship and has a six-month-old child.

Nelson was working on getting a welding apprenticeship in Alberta, Marion explained, and that’s why he failed to return to see his probation officer in Prince George.

“This is a backslide for him…things were looking good for him until he breached,” he told the judge.

Judge Brooks noted the sentence was at the low end, but accepted the joint submission and then cautioned Nelson that his next conviction will likely lead to federal prison time.

“You have to make your own choice on how you live in the future,” the judge said.