Minor annoyances

There’s a few small things that have been nagging at me lately.

1] Police disciplinary records and the ‘rush to expunge.’

Absolutely wicked editorial today in the WFP about this issue. I’m guessing Catherine Mitchell penned it. Why she’s not a regular public columnist  bewilders me. (Here’s another good recent one.)

From the piece:

The fact it passed council without a whiff of debate is damning.

Well, what irks me is, what do people expect? There is absolutely no public police oversight body in the province that has any tangible teeth. You can’t expect council to carry the water for an independent police oversight body.

And yes, LERA, I’m talking about you, despite the fact you only look at non-criminal complaints against police.

It’s now approaching the end of 2011, and we’re still waiting on your annual report from 2010. That’s not an indication it will say anything, but still. Sheesh.

On the municipal level, City Hall’s protection committee, despite having the authority to ask questions of police brass on behalf of citizens, has long been neutered by the unspoken sentiment that nobody on council will dare irk the WPS by asking tough questions, let alone fostering a real debate on policing and police budgetary issues.

I point you to this prior post where, just weeks after four people were shot (three fatally) in the North End and Point Douglas, and not one ward councillor on the committee had a question for the divisional commander of any real consequence. Sad.

That’s beside the point.

The fact that police want a five-year expungement exemption for discipline records doesn’t mean anything, really, in my humble view. It’s reasonable to expect that a police officer can go five years without issues and have their prior record expunged. Cops aren’t perfect, and they deal with seriously bad-assed people. Stuff goes wrong.

Is every one of your decisions perfect?

Aside from this, the Winnipeg public has never seen, nor had a right to see, police service records nor attend discipline hearings formal or informal.

I can count on one finger where I’ve seen the records asked for in court as part of the disclosure process, and that came to nothing.

To me, it’s much ado about nothing from the police end of things.

But, the fact that city politicians let the issue pass in a ‘breathless’ manner should surprise nobody. Not one whit.

2] Where’s Minister Swan?

Maybe I’m missing something, but the only single time I’ve heard a peep out of Justice Minister Andrew Swan (Minto) during the current election campaign is when he said a few words at the police officer memorial at the legislature last weekend. He spoke well.

But what I don’t get is why the provincial Justice Minister, in an election where crime and the solutions for it (should be) a front-and-centre issue for everybody, has been virtually silent.

I just don’t get it, and I guess I expected to see him front and centre stumping for the NDP.

To be honest, the crime and safety platforms from each of the parties are sorely lacking in my opinion. Only the poor Libs, have shown at least some clue that more cops ‘walking the beat,’ a new gun unit or some GPS bracelets aren’t the end-all solution to address our long-term crime problems.

Maybe someone should think about the fact that ‘cops on the beat’ isn’t just about lack of resources, it’s also about officer safety.

You’d be a lunatic to walk up and down College Avenue in a police uniform at any time of day without backup or a cruiser car nearby.

Sheer lunacy.

3] Kid Killers

 14 years old, maybe 80 pounds soaking wet, and now an accused killer of the premeditated kind. In other words, the worst, most reviled kind.

That’s the reality in the case of the teen who allegedly pulled the trigger on the fatal shooting of David Vincett on Boyd Avenue last Sunday.

The associated image is a social media profile picture from an account belonging to the accused, who was charged with first-degree murder for allegedly shooting the guy in the face and leaving him to die.

[UPDATE EDIT] He was recently sentenced for firing a shot at a postal carrier, not as I otherwise suggested. Apologies.

He’s 14 and entrenched in a feared and loathed street gang.

Wow. The theory I’ve heard is that while in jail for the robbery, he was likely ‘schooled’ in how to come up in the IP, make a name for himself.

IP versus MOB.

Although there’s serious doubt as to whether Vincett was a bona fide member of the MOB. Given his ADHD, he may have just blurted out the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Still, that makes Two young people dead in two weeks (teen Clark Stevenson’s stabbing was Sept. 10). The accused in the Stevenson case was arrested while on remand for a vicious stabbing.

Let’s remember:

In 2004, it was Mad Cowz beefing with the B-Siders, and the killing of a young Mad Cow (Shaggy) that forever altered the street gang landscape in the city.

After the Mad Cowz leadership refused to retaliate for Shaggy’s killing to the level that some in the gang felt was needed, the African Mafia was formed. ‘

Not long after, the infighting led to the murder of Phil Haiart. That led to the establishment of ‘Operation Clean Sweep’ – a police and political effort to crack down on gang crime in the West End. That in turn led to the creation of the current Street Crime unit of the WPS.

I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that again.

An irk I have is with media planning in the city — this city, rife with young offenders of all stripes and tendencies.

When are we going to wake up and see that youth crime ought to be a major focus for any outlet?

Cover the cases, get to know the trends and take it seriously when planning crime coverage.

I believe — and maybe I’m wrong — that the general public cares deeply about it, about trying to solve it.

No, you may not be able to name the kids, but that doesn’t mean that the issues and crimes they commit are any less serious.

Now that the police scanners have gone dark there may be a push to do just this. Who knows.

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Judge Lismer just says ‘no’

(ChrisD.ca)If you’re a young offender who frequently thumbs his or her nose at court orders, the last place you wanted to be today was in front of Judge Ted Lismer in an effort to get out on bail for the weekend.

Without any speeches, remonstrations or soft-handed explanations, Lismer wasn’t giving any breaks today.

There were two cases that stood out.

Exhibit one: The Level-4 offender

At 17, he was once considered one of the city’s worst candidates for stealing cars, driving them dangerously and endangering the public.

Police the gang-involved youth consider him to be an extremely high-risk to reoffend.

But in recent months, he’s been making somewhat of a turnaround and attending mandatory daily meetings with a program meant to try and help these kids turn their lives around.

His lawyer says he’s suffered as a byproduct of Manitoba’s devolution policy regarding kids in care — apprehended by CFS at age three after his mother couldn’t cope with her substance-abuse issues — he was placed with his two brothers in a foster home after the trio ran away and were found by RCMP.

By age nine, CFS officials decided to break up the siblings in an effort to place him in a more “culturally sensitive” home (his words). Since then, he’s been “shuffled through CFS for the last number of years.”

(Aside: every kid in court today (a docket of 10 or so) was involved in the child-welfare system.)

From there, the wheels fell off the bus, and crime, gangs and a disrespect for authority set in.

He’s amassed 17 convictions for court-order breaches, 16 of them for breaching conditions of youth sentences.

The latest allegations involve even more. The facts are “technical” and virtually innocuous. He didn’t show up for a curfew, was given a break, was arrested again on a breach, took the conviction and soon breached curfew again, the Crown said.

Prosecutors said there was no reason to trust him if he was let go. Lismer agreed and dismissed him from the courtroom, saying he agreed completely.

Again, no hand-holding. “In total, he just has too many non-compliances,” Lismer said.

Exhibit two: “In need of protection”

She’s 16, a ward of CFS and goes missing at will, triggering a police search to find her. She’ll vanish for a few days and turn up at homeless shelters or missions before turning herself in to police. Where she goes, it’s hard to say.

The Crown says she’s “a high-risk victim at high risk of being exploited.”

She’s got a long record of meltdowns, which have lead to convictions for assaulting police officers and uttering threats. Those convictions have led to many, many breaches in less than four years.

Thirteen in all — five for breaking the terms of prior sentences. She’s facing more breach allegations now.

She’s also on charge for an incident at her group home where she threatened to stab the staff, set the place on fire and lock all the doors as she left them inside.

Why? She wanted some Kraft Dinner, the Crown said in opposing her bail plan.

Instead of bloodshed or arson, the girl took off and played cat and mouse with CFS staff and police for about two weeks before turning herself in.

“It was not a serious threat … there was no real confrontation,” her lawyer told Lismer.

“Her issues are largely social-welfare welfare issues,” he said.

She lashes out at people trying to help her, he added.

The plan for her bail was to have her go live in a locked facility where she wouldn’t be able to get out unless escorted by staff. She’d also have access to programming that would help her graduate from a help-program.

Lismer, again, wasn’t buying it.

“I remain unsatisfied,” he said, simply, and dismissed her from the court.

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Winnipeg youth crime mailbag

(USVI)

Recent question via email from a reader:

“What ever happened to the kid who shot at the Canada Post carrier this winter?”

Well, reader, glad you asked: He’s serving the last few of months of an eight-month sentence recently handed to him by a youth court judge.

According to the 13-year-old’s lawyer, the incident began when the kid threatened to rob the letter carrier of his pepper-spray. Why the Postie was carrying the weapon, I can’t say [most likely dogs].

But when the carrier rebuffed the young man, the young man produced a sawed-off shotgun and fired at him, luckily missing.

There’s really not much more to it.

And yes, the shooter comes from a not-so-great background.

Why a 13-year-old — or rather — how — a 13-year-old gets access to such a weapon is a question for someone else, sadly.

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Question about youth-related crime in Winnipeg? Hit me up in the comments or at my email in the about page.

‘Common purpose’

Joseph Victor MacLeod (Passagesmb)

In this blog’s last post, it talked about the recent homicide of Abdul Jemai and one of his alleged youthful attackers — who is a known quantity to police and the justice system.

It also led to this comment from the writer of local blog One Man Committee (a must read).

“That is downright chilling. It’s like a little bit of Afghanistan here in the ‘Peg – human IEDs, ready to explode at any given moment.”

It led me to think: that’s some strong imagery. Human IEDs.

And while some may feel it’s a little too strong — Mr. Krawec actually nails it squarely on the head.

Random guy in street attacked, killed — by young suspects. Because of the YCJA, the focus turns to ‘correcting’ the offender and eschews, by and large, deterring similar acts in the future.

In just a few short years of covering crime in Winnipeg, I’ve seen this scenario play out over and over again. Sometimes with fatal results, sometimes not.

It played out on May 23, 2009, in the death of Joseph Victor MacLeod near Isabel and Ross, for example.

Two cousins – each just 14 – surround MacLeod over some gang beef and start pushing him. He’s knocked to the ground, stabbed twice and dies.

The facts are, essentially — and no disrespect meant to the tragedy that occurred — boring.

On May 23, 2009 at 1 p.m. the accused N. M. and his cousin, R. G. noticed a male, Joseph Victor MacLeod, walking down the nearby lane adjacent to Ross Street where the boys were standing.

Both boys went towards the victim and the accused N.M. confronted the lone male for wearing a white bandanna.

The accused N.M. asked the victim what he “reps”.  This can be inferred as a gang challenge by the accused who had known gang affiliation.

The victim denied any involvement with a rival gang, took his bandanna off and started to walk away, but the accused  standing in front of the victim held him back with  both hands blocking his exit, while his cousin, standing behind the victim, held on to the back of his shirt with one hand.  The victim was struck a total of five times in the body by the accused and his cousin.

The co-accused cousin then stabbed the victim twice with a large 25 to 28 ccm. blade knife doing extensive internal damage resulting in death.

Immediately thereafter both boys fled.  It is an agreed fact that there is not any evidence that the accused was aware that his cousin was carrying a knife, brandished it and used it during the assault.

The victim died of these stab wounds.

—- from Judge Brent Stewart’s Feb. 25 decision

In late February, one of the boys — the one who didn’t stab MacLeod — was convicted of manslaughter. He’s awaiting sentencing.

The judge convicted him of the crime based largely on the “common purpose” principle — that he ought to have foreseen the possibility of McLeod’s death by participation in the assault:

Turning to the facts of this particular case.  The court is bound by the agreed statement of facts with some inferences.

The confrontation, which occurred related to what the court can infer as a gang turf challenge where the accused confronted the victim, challenging his wearing of a white bandanna, swearing at him and wanting to know who he “reps”.

The victim was trapped between the accused in the front and the accused cousin in the back.  As the victim started to walk away the accused held on by both hands blocking his exit and between the two boys the victim was hit five times in the body.

From these facts, and the action of the co-accused in concert it was apparent to the court that in fact this was a gang turf challenge, where the two co-accused intended through their actions to rough up (assault or lay a licking on the victim) and teach him a lesson of not coming into their turf.

The question then is whether or not there was objectively reasonable foreseeability of the risk of bodily harm being done by the accused on the victim.  To answer that one must look at the acts and words used by the accused as it related to the victim in concert with his cousin.

If the accused simply blocked the movement of the victim by a push or shove, such would be excluded from the definition of bodily harm as being merely trifle.  However, his holding on to the victim and then striking the victim in the body with two punches at the same time that his cousin was striking the back of the victim’s body with three punches, would in my opinion be foreseeable to injure the victim sufficient to amount to bodily harm.  It would be foreseeable that such an attack to the victim’s body in this manner would interfere with the health and comfort of the victim both physically and emotionally for some time and would not be trifling.

In any outcome I am certain that a random attack such as this would leave any victim with some psychological harm of a non trifling nature such that there would be fear of simply walking down the wrong street and being subject to an assault.

Similar fact scenarios have played out countless times in the city in recent years. I cite just off the top of my head:

  • This: Argument over T-shirt led to fatal stabbing
  • This: Manslaughter conviction overturned (now pending a decision from the Supreme Court — arguments heard in December)
  • This: Teens get one-day jail sentences for deadly beating
  • This: Man, 20, jailed for violent killing

Angry youth roaming the streets commit senseless acts of violence for no apparent reason (or reason that is in any way, shape or form acceptable).

Should we be shocked? Sure. Will that shock lead to meaningful change — or an actual discussion about how to curb it?

Likely not.

I’d submit that finding “common purpose” in this instance is not just for lawyers and judges.