Catch and release: Notes on the Samantha Anderson homicide

(Samantha Anderson)
(Samantha Cherish Anderson)

What does the “supervised” in supervised probation mean in Manitoba, exactly?

It’s a question churning around and around in my head today as I dug into the wealth of justice system-related background available on Shayla Woodford, a 21-year-old Manitoba woman accused by police of murdering her one-time live-in lover Samantha Cherish Anderson.

Anderson died Dec. 21, weeks after police say she was attacked in a Boyd Avenue home on Dec. 2 — the day before her 24th birthday.

Woodford was accused (and she’s presumed innocent) right from the start, arrested just after the incident on aggravated assault and probation breach charges.

She was officially rearrested for second-degree murder earlier this week.

At the time of Anderson’s death, Woodford was out on bail (for the 7th time since late 2009) and bound by two supervised probation orders meant to either keep her in check, help rehabilitate her or, more likely, both of those things.

While the latest two cases she faces have yet to be proven, Woodford’s habit of getting collared for crimes raises questions about the level of supervision to be expected when a sentenced person is placed on supervised probation by the courts.

An unusual feature is how Woodford’s involvement with the justice system only dates back three years, shortly after she turned 18 and began her relationship with Anderson.

Since then, however, she’s been arrested and released multiple times for a variety of different offences, some of them domestic-related and others not.

To try and make sense of it, I crafted a timeline out of the available information. After taking a number of hours to consider it and its implications, I’ve decided to present it here for the record:

November 2008: Woodford and Anderson begin their relationship.

Sept 12, 2009: The couple are now living together on Young Street. Woodford, drunk on 24 Budweiser beer, assaults Anderson — even turning up the stereo to mask the sounds of the attack — and is arrested at the scene by police. She’s released on conditions she have no contact with Anderson as the case makes its way through the courts.

October 2009: The couple are back living together despite the no-contact conditions.

January 25-Feb 1, 2010: Sometime in this period, Woodford assaults Anderson again after getting a call from her lawyer, who reads to her Anderson’s statement from the prior incident.

Feb 12, 2010: Woodford asks Anderson “who she’s trying to look good for.” The incident prompts Anderson to flee their home and she tells police she’s forced to hide in a restaurant for 30 minutes to an hour to evade her lover. She spends the rest of the weekend at a friend’s home.

Feb 14, 2010: Woodford spots Anderson outside, pulls up in a car and drags her into it. Woodford pushes her into her home, pulling off Anderson’s shoes and tossing them in the snow, telling her “She’s never going anywhere again.” She then bites her on the arm.

Feb 16, 2010: Anderson discloses recent events to police and they arrest Woodford.

March 29, 2010: Woodford is released on bail to live with family, ordered to have no contact with Anderson and stay a minimum of two blocks away from her at all times.

Nov. 14, 2010: Anderson’s mother has a phone conversation with her daughter, hears Woodford in the background and calls police out of concern. Police attend and take her into custody.

Dec. 22, 2010: Woodford, granted bail weeks earlier, can’t raise a required surety, so conditions are changed on this day to remove that condition. She’s freed, ordered to abide by a nightly curfew and again, have no contact with Anderson.

March 4, 2011: Cops investigating an unrelated compliant are sent on a goose chase trying to find Woodford. They’re told she left town for her home community of Fairford First Nation for the weekend.

March 8, 2011: Woodford stops signing in at bail supervision.

June 7, 2011: Winnipeg cops finally catch up to her after they nearly hit her with a cruiser car when she walks out in front of it near Logan Avenue and Tecumseh Street. The warrant for her arrest comes to light.

Aug. 5, 2011: Woodford, held in custody now, pleads guilty to three counts of assault and a number of breaches. Judge Tim Preston cautions her about her conduct toward Anderson and apportions some of her dead time to the various charges she pleaded to. She’s released that same day on a two year long supervised probation order, with conditions including avoiding Anderson for the entire term, take domestic violence counselling and a weapons ban. These marked her first-ever convictions. “That relationship was not healthy, it’s over,” Preston tells her. “I don’t want you having anything to do with her.”

Dec. 10, 2011: A heavily intoxicated Woodford steals a Duffy’s Taxi driver’s cab, only to be arrested behind the wheel not long after. Belligerent, it takes hours for police to get a breath reading off of her. She blows .210, nearly three times the legal limit.

Dec. 12, 2011: She’s released on bail.

Feb 16, 2012: Woodford is again back in court for reasons that weren’t made clear. But they obviously had something to do with Anderson, because her bail conditions are set to include having no contact with her. She is also barred from being in the City of Winnipeg except for probation and court-related meetings or appointments.

April 6, 2012: Anderson and Woodford are riding a city bus together when one of them decides to snatch an iPhone from a passenger’s hands. They flee, but the passenger gives chase. The two women play a game of keep away with the phone until the victim restrains Woodford and Anderson jets off with the phone. Police ultimately arrest both. The charge against Anderson is stayed at a later date. Woodford is charged with the theft and a no-contact breach.

July 6, 2012: Woodford’s second sentencing: Only through her probing the lawyers does Judge Heather Pullan come to discover out a small amount of the troubled past shared by Woodford and Anderson. “What about Ms. Anderson?,” Pullan asks. “(Woodford’s) victimized her before and is now getting in trouble with her,” she says. She’s told it was Anderson who contacted Woodford this time around and that the relationship is “complex.”

Neither the Crown nor defence requests any additional probation as part of this sentence.

Pullan rebuffs that and imposes another two-year term, despite the fact she appears to be holding her nose somewhat due to Woodford’s conduct on the prior order: “This whole line of behaviour tells me you don’t care what the court says, you’re going to do what you’re going to do and victimize people,” she tells Woodford. “You have to understand, Ms. Woodford, you’re running out of chances.”

Pullan did wonder aloud why it was the prior probation term seemed to be failing to help Woodford get straight, but appeared to push the onus right back on her.

“You’re treating this whole thing as a joke. It’s really hard to protect the public from you,” Pullan tells her.

Sept. 12, 2012: Woodford is accused of several new charges, including assault, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and breach of probation. The incident obviously involves Portage Place Mall, as:

Sept 17, 2012: Woodford is released on bail with conditions she live at an address in Gypsumville and not move without permission and to stay away from Portage Place mall.

October 29, 2012: A Probation officer files a report in support of charging Woodford with new breaches as she can’t be located in Fairford, and a relative says she asked for her stuff to be sent down to Winnipeg. The relative refused to give the probation officer the contact number. The officer warns in the letter that Woodford was assessed at “high risk for general criminal conduct” and she has a “propensity to become violent.” A relative told the officer: “She is supposed to be staying with me and I have tried to help her and now I don’t know what to do.”

Dec. 2, 2012: Anderson is attacked with a kitchen knife inside a Boyd Avenue home and police charge Woodford. They say the two were living at the home. A 17-year-old girl is also injured in the attack.

Dec. 21, 2012: Anderson dies of her injuries.

Dec. 24, 2012: Police announce they have charged Woodford with second-degree murder and she remains in custody.

-30-

“Let the system do its work”

 

Manitoba Law Courts building

 

The headline of this post is what Rose McLeod says she heard when she phoned around in an effort to get her mentally-ill husband, Joe, sprung from the Remand Centre.

I feel for her, and him. He must have been scared out of his wits being in there.

But the case is intriguing, and I’d bet to many on the inside of the system, deeply troubling on a few levels.

No person is above the law.

It’s a fundamental principle of justice that the law must be uniformly applied to  everyone in society.

The administration of justice must be above political influence and the whims of the public and the press (whose views are so often looked upon by justice officials with a kind of contempt, I personally feel)

Let’s look at the facts of the McLeod case as they’ve become known:

In early September, a disoriented Joe McLeod pushes his wife, who calls police because she doesn’t know what else to do. Police arrest and charge him with assault causing bodily harm.

For some reason, police chose to detain him, perhaps over concerns for the safety of his wife and maybe the fact he has nowhere else to go that would keep him away from her (she’s a named complainant, don’t forget).

Within my understanding of WPS domestic-violence policy, the officers attending the call had no discretion but to arrest him.

He’s sent to the Remand Centre, where he’s held in a medical ward, away from general population.

On Sept. 8, Joe McLeod make his first court appearance.

His case is remanded 11 times. He appears in courtroom 304 – the domestic-violence bail court – 3 times, but fails to make a bail application.

His wife, worried sick, ramps up her efforts to try and explain the situation.

“Let the system do its work,” she says everyone told her.

Finally, the Liberal party of Manitoba, through its leader Jon Gerrard — a doctor —  saw that holding a press conference to highlight McLeod’s situation was the best way to accomplish two things: Help Rose McLeod in a troubling situation, and, at the same time, criticize the NDP government, which as a matter of routine, is beyond cagy when it comes to public accountability on the justice file.

Headlines blare and the WRHA (???) is held up to talk about/explain the issue to reporters. Since when does the health authority have discretion to comment on criminal justice cases?

Reporters scratch their heads as to why, but the story continues.

The justice minister is nowhere to be found and requests to speak with him are declined.

Political pressure is applied and magnifies the plight of this one mentally-ill man.

Friday — two days after the Liberal press conference — Judge Sandy Chapman sets him free on bail so he can go live at a care home that was hastily arranged for him by health officials.

The Crown (which had the discretion to consented to his bail weeks ago if it so chose) did not oppose his release.

In effect, the bail hearing was a completely unnecessary bit of show.

Note, however, that the file changed hands from junior to senior prosecutor by Friday.

The charge against McLeod remains, and will no doubt be stayed down the road before it ever gets before a judge for a hearing. That’s my bet.

The McLeod case has me thinking a number of concerning things about the nature of justice in Manitoba.

  1. Either the police who arrested him and had him detained were inexperienced,  OR there’s more to what happened than Rose is telling people OR they were hamstrung by the WPS’s ‘mandatory arrest’ policy in DV cases (that’s arrest, not detain, mind you), [NOTE: see comments below for a great explanation of how it works…] OR
  2. The Remand Centre has no intake protocol or discretion with Manitoba Justice to flag cases of concern to the Crown…OR
  3. If you make a big enough stink in the press you can skirt the #1 notion of the justice system (that it applies equally to all — you have to “let the system do its work” —) and get fast-tracked to the front of the line for health care services OR,
  4. S**t happens, mistakes get made, OR,
  5. You fill in the blank.
Rose McLeod was told to “let the system do its work,” but found that to get results, she had no choice but to work the system.
  • What about the next time this happens?
  • How come one press conference and a hue and cry in the media can get nearly-immediate results or action from a system that’s supposed to be above responding to such things?
  • How many other accused persons with Alzheimer’s or Schizophrenia or other mental illnesses are behind bars or locked in medical wards of hospitals when they should be — as the McLeod case shows — getting care?
  • Why do my legal sources — people working on the front-lines of the criminal justice system every day — tell me that 7-day mental health assessments ordered by a court for bail purposes routinely take 5-6 weeks to prepare?
  • Why are there only two doctors in Manitoba currently doing these assessments, along with a range of other duties?
  • How can any WRHA official use the excuse of “the case is before the courts, and therefore we can’t comment” ever again?
  • Where is the mental health court that former Attorney General Dave Chomiak promised Manitobans?