But behind the scenes, one of the more interesting legal battles I’ve seen was playing out.
In June 2013, Roulette sought to have his charges tossed out, alleging a failure by prosecutors to disclose evidence in the case had effectively ruined his chance at defending against the charges.
The unusual move — in which Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Dewar found there was delay caused by the Crown’s slowness to disclose — didn’t work and the trial went ahead a few months later.
The key evidence against Roulette was testimony from two unsavory witnesses, one of whom was (by time of trial) a deceased crack addict and naturally couldn’t be cross-examined beyond what defence lawyer Greg Brodsky was able to do at a preliminary hearing when Russell Glow was still alive and in witness protection.
It came as zero surprise to me that Roulette quickly launched an appeal after being convicted given the quirks in the case.
But this week, he found out he’d lost that fight too. Here’s Court of Appeal Justice Alan MacInnes’s reasons why that’s so.
It remains to be seen if Brodsky will take the case to the Supreme Court in hopes of winning a new trial for Roulette.
[Update/addition: Friday, May 9: In putting this piece together, I neglected to include a city child soldier case which ranks among the worst, if not the worst, Winnipeg’s ever seen: The case of JJT, who was 15 when he and another Indian Posse member shot up a house party on Alexander Avenue in March 2008. Three were killed and three severely injured. There was no motive to the crimes, other than the older IP member, Colton Patchinose, was angry at being ejected from the party just before the shooting. He went to fetch JJT and the two shot up the place with handguns. “My son was taken from me at an early age,” JJT’s dad told court, referencing the street gang influence on his son at his sentencing. JJT recieved a life term. You can, and should, read more about his background here. But I conclude this brief update with Justice Colleen Suche’s comment on her decision to sentence him as an adult:
“It is a chilling but frank reality that J.J.T. is but one of an entire generation of children being recruited as child soldiers in the small armies we know as street gangs, which are constantly at war – with each other, and with society.”)
Sirak Okbazion, 14. Clarky Stevenson, 15, Paris Bruce. 16.
Hearing the names of these three teens should give each and every Winnipegger pause.
They weren’t just teenagers involved in street gangs.
They also represent, respectfully, a decade-long grim lineage of ‘child soldiers’ who were influenced or preyed upon by older gang members to do their dirty work.
These kids are also dead today.
And it’s not right. It reflects a failure of our society that they died so young and so violently.
Beyond that, you can draw a kind of map (and in fact, I have) tracing the lineage of street gang-related mayhem that resulted as spillover from the separate killings of these three city teens.
Action prompts reaction: It’s not just a law of physics. It’s also part of the street gang ethos. You hit us. We hit you.
I’ll give you a very brief breakdown.
Sirak’s homicide was committed when he was 14 in 2004 by the West Broadway-area B-Side gang in response to one of their members being shot at.
It spawned fare more than just greater violent conflict between Sirak’s newly-founded gang, the Mad Cowz and the B-Siders. (Both factions are still with us today, just noting).
Sirak’s death led to internal strife within the Mad Cowz, which saw the creation of the African Mafia in protest of how Sirak’s death was (or was not) avenged. That strife led directly to multiple shootings, firebombings and other violent mayhem.
Worse yet, it directly influenced the death of innocent Phil Haiart, who was gunned down by AM members Corey Spence (15 at the time) and Jeff Cansanay as he simply crossed a West End street.
Cansanay, the triggerman goaded by Spence to ‘shoot, shoot,’ was aiming at two Mad Cowz members, but missed.
The resulting fallout from Haiart’s murder became a kind of chromosome in Winnipeg’s DNA.
How the political and police response shook out to the 17-year-old’s death is part of our essential makeup as a city.
From Haiart, we caught a close-up glimpse of an awful truth: Kids are being used by gangs, and kids, by virtue of their ages, are unpredictable. Maybe I could be next, people wondered.
Stevenson’s stabbing in 2011 in the North End has likely caused more bad blood between entrenched street gangs – he was an Indian Posse associate – than one might believe.
Well liked by many and known for being ferociously fearless, sources tell me Stevenson was on track to taking a place in the IP’s gang hierarchy.
So, when it just so happened he wound up stabbed to death, allegedly by suspects linked to the MOB gang, violence spilled over between the two groups in waves, and to some degree continues to this day.
Soon after, innocent David Michael Vincett, was shot by James Sinclair – just 14 – on Boyd Avenue.
Bruce, aligned with the Mob Squad – a splinter faction of the MOB – was led into a plot hatched by an older gang member to take over an Indian Posse crack house.
Just weeks before Bruce was beaten to death by IP members, the gang superior, Joshua Jeffs, who got Bruce mixed up in the plot that would claim his life, was viciously attacked by four teen IP members with a hatchet and machete for being part of a group that attacked their Boyd Avenue hangout by surprise.
Jeffs, according to prosecutors, also enlisted another teen and an 11-year-old boy to try and take over the Redwood Avenue crack shack.
Bruce, maybe not comprehending fully what he was getting himself into, tried to run when IP guys caught on to what the Mob Squad was trying to do. He wound up beaten and stabbed to death.
It’s no mistake that the Crown used the words “young soldiers” to describe Bruce, the other teen and the 11-year-old and their position within their gang.
Despite how ugly the tactic is, it should be more than patently obvious by now that older gang members are well-aware of the benefits of using younger guys to do the dirty work.
To them, the ‘kids’ are expendable – and, let there be no doubt, in great supply – even if they’re dying off or being sent packing to jail for a time as a result of their involvement in the gang underworld.
I’ll repeat: The fact that any kid winds up in a gang is a signifier to us that something is wrong with our society.
Whether they wind up there because of poverty, addictions, for protection or for a sense of belonging, seeing our youth wind up being used by criminal factions they way they are should be nothing short of alarming to us.
But recruitment continues, relatively unabated, and has done so in Winnipeg for a long time now.
I’ve only presented here three examples of slain “child soldiers.”
What’s to be done about it, I can’t offer a solution other than to say every child needs a baseline of normality in their lives in order to have a chance at success over the long-term.
What I am sure of — and it should be pretty clear by now if you’ve gotten this far — is that “child soldiers,” “young soldiers,” or whatever you want to call them, are a blight not just on the gangs they’re enlisted in, but on us as a society as a whole.
We should be shocked and outraged by the brutal, violent deaths of people in our city who have barely lived.
I get the sense we’re generally just resigned to the fact that this happens to some of our youth. And it’s wrong.
But for many young aboriginal men in a city where baby-faced teens somehow can get their hands on a .357 Magnum and carry it about with seeming impunity to kill over ridiculous notions of revenge, gang membership or association is to people in some particular circumstances, more akin to a Scouts club or after-school sports program might be for semi-affluent kids who live in Winnipeg’s sprawling suburbs.
And therein lies the rub of it. Our ability to look the other way or shrug our shoulders at the deaths of these men speaks to a fundamentally larger problem our society suffers from.
That being: a shocking and profound inability to empathize very much any more. That’s my gut feeling. And I trust my gut.
“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” one person replied to me on Twitter tonight when I expressed my angst on this topic.
“I celebrate every time one or more of these drug dealer/gangsters gets snuffed,” said another.
Bullshit, I say to them here in reply. These are the answers of cowards.
Dismiss out of hand what you refuse to even try to understand.
Eye for an eye is an exercise in mental gymnastics which will take us nowhere.
Regardless of anything: These two 23-year-old were living, breathing people, goddammit. For example: Baptiste had two young children. He had a long-time partner who cared about him. He lived, he breathed.
And dear God, how he bled.
I never met either of these men. And I’m pretty much sure they would have spat on me — or at least eyed me with extreme suspicion — if I had ever had the courage to walk up and say hello.
That’s not the point. The point is that between my cowardice and what I assume would be their disdain are symptoms of a sickness.
Just as street gangs are symptoms of a larger sickness still — a generational, trickle-down illness of poverty, rampant unfairness, inequality and racism.
I deplore senseless violence. I detest gangs and their uber-profitable, miserable businesses of drug-and-human trafficking, just to name two of the major income streams.
But to the degree an outsider can, I understand why the gangs exist and how they persist. And I know we don’t (or is it can’t or won’t?) do nearly enough as a society to be able to convince gang members to want to get out, that something better is waiting on the other side.
I find it very, very difficult to simply say, ‘meh‘ to a life cut senselessly, brutally, criminally short.
But that’s what I see happening when it comes to the overall public reaction to the murder trial — a process trying to find some justice for Henderson and Baptiste.
Media coverage, aside from the daily newspapers, has been scant, despite wide-spread coverage of their deaths when they were discovered.
It makes no sense to me how there’s little follow-through.
But I won’t get too deep into that, because we don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. This brings me to what I wanted to point out. My appreciation.
I don’t know if the Winnipeg police have it right in charging Ken Roulette – reportedly a friend of these men — with the deaths.
There are things about this case I’ve seen so far that don’t quite add up to me, at least just yet.
But in the end, it’s not up to me, or you, to decide. In this way, we’re just observers to the work six men and six women are now charged with doing.
But what I do know is that homicide investigators and the two seasoned Crown prosecutors now putting in the case didn’t have the choice of saying, ‘Meh,’ and shrugging their shoulders when called on to try and bring some resolution to this awful matter.
What I do know is that two of Winnipeg’s best defence lawyers don’t appear to be conceding one inch of territory to their state adversaries — another hallmark of criminal-legal seriousness. The stakes are huge here.
There’s an aura to the proceedings as a whole which I can only describe as spine-tingling. It hangs over the courtroom like a pregnant dark cloud.
To me, it’s right and just that this feeling persists. The awfulness of what happened here can’t be brushed aside, despite my fear it will.
Ask yourself this. If it had been two 23-year-old white kids from Charleswood or St. Vital who were killed in this fashion — what would the interest be then?
“Gonzos,” a co-accused is reported as saying as he put stuff over the hot stove. “Everything’s on fire.” The entire building was destroyed. Many lost everything except the clothes on their backs.
“As soon as I saw the fire, I ran,” the youth said. “I couldn’t believe the smoke.”
What proof did the Bloodz gang have to show this apartment should be targeted?
They once saw a Mad Cowz member hanging out in there. So, nothing conclusive. Basically just a hunch.
One result: a $1-million dollar devastation, 40 people left homeless, 19 of those people [including a bunch of kids] hospitalized, a pregnant woman’s miscarriage, and a whole whack of terror and fear for innocents who to this day still have trouble sleeping lest they not get out alive again.
Another result? A 17-year-old ‘kid’ now entertaining the option of being able to run his own gang crew because of the notoriety his despicable act of arson gained him.
Another result: Three adult suspects likely to skate easy in court because it’s going to be difficult to prove who actually did what and when.
And the final result: A suspect on the lam for nearly a year now because family members are choosing to hide him from police on some reserve instead of doing the right thing and hauling him into the nearest police detachment to face justice.
Yes. Oh yes. There have been very few crimes in Winnipeg of late that have both intrigued me, sickened me and infuriated me like the gang-retribution arson at 577 Sherbrook St. — perpetrated Jan. 14 in the early morning hours when many of the children, women and men peacefully living out their lives there were likely sleeping and had to run like hell to save their skins.
I wonder how they’d feel today knowing one of the people who caused their misery — he’s 17 today — now stands to gain from it if he so chooses.
From the Crown, referencing the psych report conducted for the youth’s benefit after he pleaded guilty:
“I think the most jarring part of this is his gang membership and how he feels about it … when asked about his future plans regarding gang association, he states he’s not certain what else he wants to do. On one hand, he says he’s considering quitting the gang association. However on the other hand now he could be a leader, have his own gang or crew,” Ericka Dolcetti, quoting from the report.
“And he added as an exclamation: ‘I never had that kind of power!,’“
“He’s not learned from this at all. In fact, maybe this has given him some street cred,” Dolcetti said.
“… He is absolutely a danger to the public,” Dolcetti said today. “He uses his fists and he doesn’t use his words.”
When the group fled the scene, they returned to the safe house and continued partying.
“Yeah, we got them!,” “I lit up the kitchen!,” and “I lit up the couch,” were their happy cries.
When cops arrived a few minutes later, the officers themselves heard though the door:
“I burnt the whole fucking place down — go check it out!,”
The party ended when cops came through the door at gunpoint. The jig was up.
Since the age of 6, the offender in question has been bounced from CFS foster placement to CFS foster placement — as many as 15 times in a decade.
He drinks, yes, but weed is his daily drug of choice (although he’s experimented with cocaine, morphine, ecstasy and Restoril).
“Weed is my best friend … I can’t answer if I’d ever stop,” he told a probation officer.
In recent years, he’s had several family members die. That’s been hard on him.
Due to the constant shuffling around, he has major attachment issues, feels “frequently worthless and has been diagnosed with PTSD due to his upbringing. He lives “vividly in the moment of past trauma,” a leading youth psychotherapist says. He has an “overreaction to threats, real or imagined.”
He says it was a female cousin who “pressured” him into tagging along with the group that morning — pushed him out the door, telling him to go back up his brothers.
“He is remorseful,” his lawyer says.
The youth gave an oddly-worded apology for his actions in court. Odd in the sense his words seemed so careful and structured that one couldn’t help but question their sincerity.
“[I] take responsibility on my part — [I] burned down that apartment building. I know it’s irreversible what I’ve done. I’m very remorseful for the people I hurt, the pain I caused and damage I caused [to] people in that apartment building.
Alcohol and drugs had a really bad effect on me that night. I plan to work on that during my stay at the Agassiz Youth Centre. I also plan to work on my social skills, my employment skills and other skills that are available to me at the Agassiz Youth Centre.
I’ve suffered lots, lots of deaths in my life — losing my mom and dad [is a] big problem for me … depression, overwhelmed with anger … I still have major thinking errors.”
At the time of the arson, the youth was on probation and had been AWOL from his latest group home for just shy of a month.
Prior to that, he breached conditions of his probation on Dec. 5, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. It wasn’t stated in court why he wasn’t breached and put back in lockup after he came back on the 6th.
Prior to that, between October 21-29, he also breached by not returning to his group home.
Prior to that, on Aug 22-23, he didn’t check in as directed to do so. He was arrested for this and got bail.
There’s no real point of presenting any of the above, except a certain professional satisfaction that there will be a record of this somewhere — a record beyond the basic newspaper retelling of what happened, and how such a major crime was dealt with by the system.
This kid is a mess, and you could with a straight face make the argument he never really had a chance to be anything but.
At the end of the day however, he’ll be free 27 months from now. And I hope, sincerely, we’ve seen the last of the worst he’s capable of doing.
It’s carefully researched, and Friesen talks to the right people — including Wolff’s brother, Richard, one of the founders of the street gang — and the story come alive because of it. Not to mention the references to Wolfe’s letters from jail, where he spent a fair amount of time prior to being killed there last year after being handed five life sentences for a deadly home invasion in Saskatchewan.
As always, the comments section is revealing, with Friesen taking flak from some who contend the ambitious article borders on the sentimental.
Wolff was a stone-cold killer. There’s no doubt about it. But what Friesen shows is that there’s a kind of method to Wolfe’s madness, a steely pseudo-logic born from life on the street and not from the book.
And that is likely reason number one why the IP and other similar gangs most likely won’t ever achieve the kind of “sophistication” (to use the oft-used policing term) that could see them rise out of the gutter.
In a way, that the gang’s inability to pull itself up by the bootstraps is referred to as “puzzling” is puzzling in itself.
It’s not hard to figure out.
Here’s a clip:
But police say one of the puzzling aspects of the IP has been its inability to develop the more sophisticated techniques of traditional organized crime.
“There’s no discipline to save cash and accrue assets. No education to rely on for cash management,” says Sergeant Mike MacKinnon of Winnipeg’s organized-crime unit. “You might pull them over and they’ll have $10,000 or $15,000 on them, but at the end of the day that’s money already spent. … We haven’t seen anyone moving up into buying large condos or anything like that. They still live in the neighbourhoods they always lived in.”
Richard, who left the gang years ago, is quiet when asked where all the money went. Is there a Swiss bank account? He chuckles.
He says they used to talk about investing in youngsters who could go to university and infiltrate the police force and the Crown’s office. As with many organizations, recruiting and promoting the right people was a challenge. Daniel was one of the gang’s top recruiters, but he complained in a prison letter to Richard in 2000 that there were “too many fucked-up people recruiting fucked-up people.”
—————————–From Joe Friesen’s The Ballad of Daniel Wolfe, page 3 (bolded line, emphasis mine because that’s totally interesting)
No discipline, no education, no plan. Just rep and cred. Hustle and be fierce. And that’s any street gang’s real problem.
One of MacKinnon’s colleagues said to me one day that for many so-called “sophisticated” organized crime groups, the credo could be described as:
If it doesn’t make money, it doesn’t make sense.
What I took this to mean is, if there’s nothing financial to be gained by shooting, maiming or intimidating someone, you generally — generally — don’t waste your time on it. It attracts much unwanted attention when people start getting hurt.
To paraphrase D’Angelo Barksdale (or was it Bodie Broadus?), characters from HBO’s The Wire: The police, loosely speaking, don’t care all that much if people buy drugs and get high.
They really care when people start getting dead. Especially people not ‘in the game,’ as it were.
Therein lies the paradox of the street gang.
You have to hurt others to demonstrate your power but in doing so you ultimately show weakness.
Feature interview (and a puzzling headline) with mayoral hopeful Judy Wasylycia-Leis in today’s FP.
Some interesting stuff there, but it’s odd how “the most important issue of the election” is buried 22 paragraphs in, and there’s two paragraphs of response on it. Still, here’s what was said.
I understand that not all of what she said would make into print — after all, it was Bart Kives himself who taught me to “kill my orphans” when transcribing a Q&A for the paper.
But let’s look at how Judy responded [at least in part]….
FP: Some voters don’t trust you on crime. What would you say to them?
JWL: I think Winnipeggers understand this is a difficult issue. You have to get at the roots of crime, not just policing and not just building law-and-order stuff. You have to approach this from all angles.
I know (Winnipeggers) are looking for solid, serious approaches to problem-solving to deal with this issue. I’ve put my plan on the table and I hope Sam will put his on the table. This is probably the most important issue of the election, one that requires the most thoughtful debate and discussion.
Yes, it is a difficult issue. The problem is that crime-prevention programs largely take time to take effect — sometimes over a generation. That’s a noble goal.
But as much as Winnipeggers may be looking for “solid, serious approaches to problem-solving to deal with” crime, there’s a level of frustration with the general feeling of lawlessness in the city that people want something done about, pronto.
Gun crime seems rampant. Hauls from drug busts keep getting bigger and bigger all the time (an indication of demand). Extreme violence seems to erupt out of nowhere. It’s unsettling.
We can have all the effective problem-solvers in the room that you want, but people probably would prefer action.
People want to trust that the city’s given the police executive the tools and expertise to do what’s truly necessary, but that’s a story for another day.
Katz has proposed additional officers — 20 to check and monitor gang bangers, 18 for a new cruiser car etc. He hasn’t said definitively when we’ll actually get them or how we’ll pay for them, but that’s beside the point.
There’s a cop chopper about to take flight, which, while a cool idea, won’t directly put handcuffs on anybody.
Point is, Katz’s proposals seem to point to somewhat of an immediate — albeit very in-the short-term — “solution” to today’s issues.
I’d bet for the average person, hearing about more police on the way must be somewhat reassuring. And that, ultimately is what’s playing well for Katz on the crime front in this campaign. Even if it is blase.
People don’t get the same level of reassurance from knowing gangsters will get jobs, or that there’s a number they can call to tip off police about crime activity.
We’ve had the latter in the form of Crime Stoppers for eons now and it does what it does, which is good, but it’s difficult to say it makes anyone safer in a tangible sense.
Namely, a trend of repeat, often violent offenders who are released by the courts and quickly become reinvolved and have to be rearrested.
While there’s little the city can do to effect change on what’s a provincial and federal responsibility, the data could possibly point to some possible solutions.
In turn, that would reassure people that those in charge — or those who say they want to be — know what the problems actually are.
Speaking of which, that’s the one thing missing from the public talk of Katz’s and the WPA’s GRASP program, and it’s surprising given all the comparison it gets to the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy.
WATSS was built on a comprehensive survey and study of police and Justice data about the top teen auto-theft offenders in the city.
Watching who was involved, when, with who else, how long they spent in jail, when they were released. By identifying patterns in the data, solutions were found.
It also was a tri-level initiative. Police, prosecutors, probation officers (and MPI). Everyone worked together.
[BTW – how much of a factor did mandatory immobilizers for ‘most-at-risk’ vehicles play in slashing auto-theft rates?]
So far, what I’ve heard about GRASP (which, correct me if I’m wrong, was first announced in Sept. 2009, again BTW) is that it’s a solely police-led program. That’s a red flag for me, personally. They can’t do it all.
But the timing of the GRASP program’s [re]announcement shows us something.
Remember,in September 2009, the public outrage over gangs after the shooting death of a woman at a wedding social on Main Street was at its peak. The police and justice officials were getting hammered daily in the press.
And then, voila! A solution is announced.
And the public was reassured. Gangs quickly died off as a top-of-mind issue.
Cheryl Roberts killing remains unsolved, at least publicly.
After the Taman Inquiry, people’s confidence in Manitoba’s police in general was flagging. Fairly or not, that’s the way it played out.
The province brought in a new police act, which was supposed to deal with the most pressing issues the public had with police and their accountability. It also disbanded the East St. Paul police force.