‘I never had that kind of power!’

‘I never had that kind of power!’

Pissed off at their gang pal being maced and mugged by a rival banger, five people — all relatively young — elect to get revenge.

Their chosen method of retribution?

Storm out of their Furby Street safehouse armed with hockey sticks, head into a basement suite at a nearby Sherbrook Street apartment block and torch the place by stuffing paper, sheets, blankets — whatever — onto the hot stove. And then run.

“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.

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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.”

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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.

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Downtown Winnipeg: Personality sketches iii

This is the third in a series of sporadic reports about criminally-involved people who habitually inhabit and wander downtown Winnipeg.

There’s a lot more to them and their lives than I’d bet most care to realize.

These are true stories. 

“He stated that he is “a city boy” and will remain in the City of Winnipeg.” 

It wasn’t until only recently that C found out how old he was.

He made the discovery after a prison guard read the 41-year-old his date of birth off a corrections report.

But then, C’s ignorance about what are (to many people) simply routine facts of life maybe shouldn’t be all that surprising from a man who says his mother consumed so much liquor, solvents and hand-sanitizer that he was “drunk at birth.”

He hasn’t heard from her in three years.

Dad — his namesake — was only introduced to him for the first time at age 16 during a chance encounter at the Manwin Hotel.

Dad is blind in one eye because of the amount he drank. He and C don’t keep in touch.

Accounts of how C’s made-in-Winnipeg journey led him to a federal prison cell for the next six years vary even when recounted by him.

“Confirming the account of his life is difficult as he has disjointed thinking which he accounts to his FASD,” a report states.

But it’s safe to say that since he was 9, C’s been largely ‘living off the land,’ as it were.

That is, wandering Winnipeg neighbourhoods on foot, with the Main Street strip — and its characters and dangers and urban angels — being the constant backdrop of C’s public life, mostly lived on the streets.

He had to grow up fast, he says.

 “I know know from the age of 7 to 40 on Main Street there was only pain and suffering,” he said in a recent letter to a probation officer. “When I was 8-9 year of age I felt like I was 15-16 year already. I know it sounds nuts but that part of my life.” (sic)

Then there’s also the good chunk of time C has spent occupying space in provincial and federal jail cells, youth and adult, over the years.

In his fourth decade, the FASD-diagnosed Salteaux/Cree man finds himself HIV-positive, recovering from a recent gall bladder infection that nearly killed him and a blood clot in his lung.

He’s also been labeled a convicted sex offender who took damaging advantage of a young relative introduced to him at a medical clinic in 2008.

He’s assessed at a very high risk to reoffend.

C was recently convicted of aggravated sexual assault after impregnating his 14-year-old, drug-addicted and CFS-involved niece during a 2.5 month-long criminal “arrangement.”

The two would share needles and he’d ply the girl with pills, booze and cash in exchange for sex.

C says he thought of the girl as “a stranger” and was so intoxicated for the entire year that he didn’t remember abusing her. He told a report writer he didn’t have a full understanding of the court proceedings, and had hoped to get a sentence of “time served.”

C’s criminal record is somewhat storied at this point, having amassed more than 40 convictions over his lifetime.

The vast majority of them, however, relate to his street-assimilated “trade” (his word) of “boosting” (stealing) other people’s stuff and reselling it for cash.

But when you’re 9 years old and already living on the streets — likely still bruised and broken from being frequently beaten by a stepdad’s belt and mom’s broomstick, you do what you gotta do.

Simply surviving could be said to be a daily miracle.

Reporting the domestic abuse did him no good, he says. He was “slapped in the face and discredited.” When the violence was directed at his sisters, he tried to step in and was beaten for that, too.

“He was consistently told that he was ugly, wasn’t wanted and that he should’t have been born, which led to suicidal thoughts,” he told his PO.

His six step-sisters each turned to the sex trade. His nine step brothers haven’t fared much better, with many also being locked up — at least one for murder.

By age 8, C’s already thinking of killing himself.

But C? He’s a survivor.

And he says he found at least some safe harbour from the very people who had once likely been mired in similar circumstances as he then found himself.

“He was helped out by various prostitutes and drug dealers who showed him how to live and survive in the elements of Winnipeg. He had people who showed him how to deal drugs and make money ‘boosting’ goods to sell to others.”

He also made some cash by working as a casual at a scrap yard — an arrangement that continued into his 30s.

So that’s what he did. Life on the streets, year after year. The grind.

Somehow, C managed to complete Grade 8.

At 16, CFS punted him to an independent living program and he just stopped going.

He was often kicked out of school for fighting and once — in elementary — expelled for stabbing a classmate with a pencil.

C’s first sexual experience also came at age 9, the same year he started doing drugs, eventually developing a problem with Talwin and Ritalin.

His partner was a 21-year-old prostitute with whom he somehow wound up staying with.

He says they had sex after she gave him a bath one day.

“He reported feeling weird, but believed he was “the man” as he heard people talking about sex but wasn’t sure what it was,” according to a provincial report. “He questions why people make a big deal about it.”

Other sex partners over the years included sex-trade workers, one of whom C married.

A report states they had “up to” four children, all now wards of CFS.

The five-year marriage, as one might imagine, was destructive.

“Their time together was barely a relationship as she was a prostitute that used intravenous drugs, ingested solvents and drank.” As for his part, C admits he often “hid in beer.”

It was his wife who gave him HIV.

She ultimately left him after he was jailed on a prior conviction.

His lineage hails from a reserve north of Regina, but he’s only been there once in his life — for a funeral.

He says he has found some solace with a North End mission, who’s executive director he describes as being “like a mother to him.”

He has expressed hope to change with the help of community groups he’s come in contact with in recent years.

C says he has no connection to his aboriginal heritage. He has no plans to return to his home community when he gets out of prison. That’s his choice.

That leaves us pretty much back exactly where we started.

“The subject enjoys traveling around the city, exploring different neighbourhoods. He presented how this allows him an understanding of how he thinks and other people’s journeys. He commented how he is trying to leave his criminal life of boosting things to sell others behind him.”

 “He stated that he is “a city boy” and will remain in the City of Winnipeg.”

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Remembering a God-fearing man’s senseless death

(Tim Knudsen, second from left, with family)

When disabled or vulnerable people — like Harvey Sanderson Jr. — wind up beaten and dead, my blood boils.

I’m likely not alone.

Sanderson’s beating seems so callous and pointless.

But, in some small way, it allows me a small opportunity to offer my apology to the family of a vulnerable man beaten to death in fall 2008 because he didn’t have a smoke to give a passing drunk.

As it is with Sanderson, I had the same dull pit of anger in by gut in the days following the killing of Tim Knudsen outside the Salvation Army — his home.

As I’ve come to learn, some of those who participated in the group beating that ultimately caused the 300 lb. “gentle giant” to suffer a massive brain injury and die remain at large. They know who they are and hopefully they live in shame and torment for their actions.

A week or so after Knudsen died, police arrested two men who ultimately pleaded guilty.

Cyril Raven — who initiated the attack, punched Knudsen, knocked him down and walked away, pleaded to assault cause bodily harm and got a sentence of 190 days time served and two years of probation, which is still ongoing.

Dean Isbister — who joined in and kicked the prone, defenceless Knudsen in the head at least twice — pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a sentence of 638 days time served, plus two years less a day of jail to top it off and three years probation to follow.

They were sentenced June 17, 2010 in front of Judge Marvin Garfinkel.

Their punishments, from what I can tell through news archives, has never been reported.

But more importantly, what was never put on the record is the comments made by Knudsen’s sister, Ann Piekoff, in her statement to the court — and the two men held responsible for the crime.

Ann was kind enough to sit and talk with me back in my Free Press days. Judging from the date of the post of our time together, it was a few months after her beloved brother died.

To hear her talk about how there were no defensive wounds found on her brother’s hands during the autopsy.

I committed back then to seeing the prosecution through, but lost track of it along the line, having switched jobs and responsibilities.

For that, I apologize.

And while I could rail on about what some may call “weak” sentence meted out by the courts for the loss of a good man’s life (however challenged it was) there’s no point. Given conflicting statements given by witnesses at the scene, the Crown was probably lucky to get the convictions it did.

What is important, I feel today, is to remember Knudsen — through the words of his sister as told to Garfinkel.

Here they are, for the record.

Sadly, Tim’s life ended tragically, far too soon, almost two years ago. To understand what we have lost, your Honour, you have to know a little bit about who Tim was and what he meant to me and to his family and friends.

Tim didn’t choose his life, but he lived it the best he could. He had his challenges mentally and physically but he never burdened others with his issues. He was fiercely independent and chose to live on his own in a community where he was accepted and indeed had many friends.

Tim loved the outdoors and often went fishing with his friends from the Booth Centre. He especially loved going to the Goldeyes games or the football games when he had the chance.

Sundays would find him at chapel where he loved music and singing. He had a passion for music — all kinds of music from heavy metal to … gospel.

The last photo we have of Tim is him at a gospel meeting, reading from the Bible.

Even though Tim was independent and wanted to live on his own he was still very much connected to his family.

I had a weekly ritual with Tim.

He would call me on Mondays to arrange a day to come over to visit myself and his two nieces.

He would always come over early so then he could cut my grass or shovel the snow. He would do anything I asked him to.

He loved family get-togethers and celebrations. Even though he didn’t talk a lot, you knew he enjoyed being around our gatherings.

Now, when my parents come to visit, there’s an empty spot at the dinner table. I see the pain and the sadness in my parents’ eyes knowing that Tim won’t be there.

It would be easy to judge or dismiss Tim as a homeless bum based on where he lived and his physical appearance. But Tim was part of a loving family and was loved by us as well as his friends.

Tim was our gentle giant, he was generous to a fault and would never lift a hand against another. The tragedy is he chose to live independently —as was his right— and because of his challenges he was vulnerable.

I was his big sister and I should have been able to protect him but could not.

His death leaves a hole in our lives as it does for his friends and our community.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I and my family don’t think about him.

I miss him.

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