Justice system failed to curb behaviour of car thief now charged after police pursuit, judge said in 2020

A Manitoba judge had harsh words four years ago about the justice system’s inability to help curb the behaviour of a convicted car thief who is now facing a slew of new charges stemming from a police pursuit that stretched across southern Manitoba this week.

David Frank Burling, 29, was arrested in Saskatchewan Wednesday, after police say he was involved in a pursuit that began in Winnipeg and led them to Niverville, Man., where another man died after being shot by police.

Burling has a history of fleeing from police.

In 2020, he was sentenced to just under two years on charges that also included another flight from police, this time in the Crystal City area.

“I look at your criminal record, and … it’s been a one-man crime wave, really, for two years,” Manitoba Judge Heather Pullan told Burling during his May 2020 sentencing hearing.

“It’s your responsibility, sir, together with whomever’s out there supporting you, to see whatever it is that’s driving this behaviour on your part,” she said.

Pullan also said protecting the public is a fundamental principle in sentencing.

“And as a justice system, we are doing a terrible job here,” she said.

After this week’s police chase, Burling is now charged with two counts of assaulting a peace officer, among several other charges.

The incident began Tuesday night, when Manitoba RCMP say they got a call regarding a vehicle that had been stolen in western Manitoba in May. Saskatchewan RCMP said the vehicle had been spotted in the province’s southeast, and they believed it was headed to Manitoba.

The vehicle was later spotted near Oak Bluff, Man., RCMP said.

Winnipeg police said Wednesday that they spotted the vehicle in the west end of the city shortly after midnight.

WATCH | Niverville residents shocked after police shooting:

Southern Manitoba town shocked by fatal police shooting after vehicle pursuit from Winnipeg

9 hours ago

Duration 2:16

Residents of a small southern Manitoba community are in shock after their town saw the conclusion of a police chase across the region that ended with officers shooting and killing one suspect and another one fleeing to Saskatchewan, where he was eventually caught.

The police service’s helicopter tracked the vehicle for about an hour, before it ended up in Otterburne, south of Winnipeg, where a police cruiser was rammed by the stolen vehicle. An “engagement” followed, in which police fired their guns, and the suspects fled in the truck, Winnipeg police said.

The chase led police north to Niverville, where the driver of the stolen truck got into another vehicle and fled.

Another man, who was found inside the stolen truck with a gunshot wound, died from his injuries before an ambulance arrived.

Burling was arrested hours later near Springside, Sask., northwest of Yorkton.

But he wasn’t supposed to be driving at all.

CBC has learned he had walked out of jail several months ago, fresh off a two-and-a-half year sentence that included a years-long driving ban, following a June 2022 police pursuit in Portage la Prairie.

A man with brown beard
David Burling, 29, was arrested in Saskatchewan on Wednesday. (Saskatchewan RCMP)

During sentencing for that incident, Manitoba provincial court Judge Jean McBride warned Burling to change his ways.

“It’s my hope … Mr. Burling, that this is the very last time that you put yourself and others at risk by … not only stealing motor vehicles, but by fleeing from police and then driving dangerous. You do not have the right to do that,” McBride told him.

“If this has not been a wake-up call for you, I don’t know what is or what will be. And if it happens again, there’s no question you’d be looking at a much longer jail sentence.”

During his 2020 sentencing in the Crystal City pursuit, court heard he had a troubled and turbulent upbringing.

Burling’s lawyer also told the court his client was addicted to driving.

Judge Pullan suggested Burling get a referral for psychiatric or mental health treatment.

Michael Weinrath, a criminal justice professor at University of Winnipeg, said Burling’s criminal record and history involving  police pursuits is a concern.

But he said there are programs in the justice system that can help.

“For people with impulsivity, people who make poor decisions, cognitive behavioural programs have tended to be more successful than others,” Weinrath said.

“In terms of addressing this type of decision-making, clearly those programs can address that but you also need motivation.”