A former security guard pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon Monday for pepper-spraying a suspected shoplifter.
Rafik Khlgatyan, 57, entered the guilty plea in Edmonton provincial court for the September 2019 incident outside the No Frills in Old Strathcona.
Another charge of possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose was withdrawn.
Court heard that Mark Callihoo left No Frills pushing a cart with his groceries inside. A cashier pointed to Callihoo, and Khlgatyan thought it was because Callihoo did not pay for his groceries. Khlgatyan, who was employed by the shopping plaza and not authorized to provide security for the supermarket, followed Callihoo to the parking lot.
It was later determined the cashier was trying to tell Callihoo about some flowers he had left at the check out.
Court heard Callihoo and Khlgatyan had a verbal argument over the shoplifting accusation and, without provocation, Khlgatyan pulled pepper spray from his jacket pocket and sprayed Callihoo’s face.
Both men went back inside the No Frills where it was confirmed Callihoo had paid for the groceries. Khlgatyan then left the supermarket and Callihoo received treatment from paramedics.
In his victim impact statement, Callihoo said he is now on medication, seeing a psychiatrist and does not want to go outside for fear of getting attacked again.
Callihoo has said he believes he was targeted because he is indigenous.
The judge, however, said Khlgatyan was motivated by a misunderstanding. But he said it’s significant that Khlgatyan acted beyond his authority when he stopped Callihoo, was carrying a prohibited weapon and used it. He acknowledged that the incident has had a lasting effect on Callihoo.
The defence said Khlgatyan, who had no prior convictions, had only been in the job for two weeks and was carrying pepper spray to protect himself after receiving some threats. He lost his job and his licence to be a security guard as a result of the incident.
When asked if he wanted to make any comments, Khlgatyan turned to Callihoo and said “I’m so sorry.”
The judge imposed a sentence of 18 months of probation with conditions, including completing 60 hours of community service, refraining from contact with Callihoo, not attending the No Frills and not seeking employment in the security industry.
The defence declined to comment on the case, however Khlgatyan offered a few words outside the courthouse.
Callihoo did not take appear to accept Khlgatyan’s apology.
“If he was so sorry, he would apologize back then. He didn’t even look at when he did it. He just turned around and walked out of the store,” he said.
Callihoo said he is proceeding with a civil lawsuit and hopes to move past the incident one day.
“It’s going to take a while. I’ll just get back to life, hopefully get a job soon,” he said.