Former gym coach admits guilt over explicit messages to teen

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She considered her gymnastics coach one of her “best friends.”

But when the middle-aged man – a former city bylaw constable – sent her explicit photos and messages over social media in 2017, the Yellowknife teenager’s “heart shattered.”

In a victim impact statement, the girl – who is entitled to anonymity – described her life becoming a nightmare, forcing her to seek psychiatric help.

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“I cannot erase the images from my mind,” she wrote in the statement, read by Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane in Supreme Court on Tuesday morning.

“I blame myself for trusting you. You gradually built up my trust, just to take it away.

“I feel so numb. I’m not able to wake up from this nightmare. I feel haunted by you every day.”

Ricky Lee Sutherland sat with his head down beside his lawyer, his arms folded, as Fane continued to read from the impact statement, with the victim sitting in the public gallery behind him.

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She said Sutherland had made her feel “so special” when he coached her at Yellowknife Gymnastics Club.

“Sadly, you were not the person I thought you were.”

Snapchat messages

Fane said Sutherland was taken on by the gymnastics club in July 2016. He had volunteered there around the same time he was employed by the city’s Municipal Enforcement Division.

At what was supposed to be the start of a four-day, judge-only trial, Sutherland pleaded guilty to one of two counts he faced.

He will be sentenced in late July for one count of luring by communicating electronically with a person under the age of 18 years.

Defence lawyer Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass will be challenging the constitutionality of the charge’s mandatory minimum sentence of one year.

A second count, sending sexually explicit material to a person under the age of 18, will likely be set aside by the Crown at time of sentencing.

City records show Sutherland was hired as a constable in February 2015. It’s not clear when he left the city’s employ.

Fane said the gymnastics club cautions all employees not to be friends with its members on social media.

When attending a sports conference in Toronto in February 2017, Sutherland used Snapchat to send an explicit photo of himself to the girl.

Snapchat content is only available for a short time before it disappears. However, the teen quickly “drew a facsimile” of what she saw, said Fane.

She later used a mobile phone camera to capture other messages Sutherland sent to her. 

Sutherland had also made a screen grab of one of her Instagram posts, returning it to her with comments that other people online wouldn’t be able to see.

Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau placed a temporary sealing order on those exhibits entered by the Crown. She will later decide on whether to make the order permanent.

Fane told the court that after returning from Toronto, Sutherland was confronted by the club over the issue.

He admitted he sent the Snapchat message, claiming he was drunk, and was fired by the club.

He later texted an apology to the girl.

Flight amended

Charbonneau will hear the constitutional challenge on July 2.

She will provide her decision on that and continue with the sentencing process July 29 to 31.

One of Sutherland’s bail conditions requires he not be in Yellowknife unless attending court. He now lives in Ontario.

He also is ordered not to have any contact or communication with the girl.

By coincidence, both he and the teenager had been booked on the same flight out of Yellowknife this weekend.

Charbonneau said if Sutherland can’t find a way to change his flight, he must be seated as far away as possible on the aircraft – even if the airline must be informed of the situation by the Crown.

After this report was first published, Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane informed Cabin Radio that Sutherland will now not travel on the same flight as the victim.

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