He was the only adult hiding inside a heavily-fortified house where members of the police tactical response team found $9,000 worth of cocaine.
But a Winnipeg man has walked free of drug charges after a judge ruled the case against him just isn’t strong enough.
Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey said while it’s "probable" that Paul Scarlett is guilty of possession for the purpose of trafficking, the Crown had failed to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt as required by law.
"There is insufficient evidence to prove that he had knowledge of or an element of control over the drugs," McKelvey said in Monday’s written ruling. She admitted to having "grave concerns" that she was clearing a guilty man of wrongdoing but said it was the only decision she could make in law given the facts.
Scarlett was the target of a June 2010 search warrant police obtained for a Balmoral Avenue home. Members of the tactical response team had great difficulty getting inside as the front door was completely barricaded by several wooden planks. A similar blockade was on the rear entry, but officers managed to smash through.
Inside they found Scarlett and his two children, aged eight and 10. And nearby, in a kitchen cupboard, were several bags containing nine ounces of powder cocaine.
The Crown argued at trial that Scarlett was clearly guilty since he was the only adult inside the home and had obviously taken extreme steps to prevent others from gaining access. A police expert testified this was a common tactic for a so-called "stash house" within the drug-dealing community.
But defence lawyer Sheldon Pinx took aim at police, accusing them of a shoddy investigation of his client. Police admitted they never interviewed the mother of Scarlett’s children, who also had access to the home. Nor did they determine who else might have visited the home or fingerprint the seized drugs.
The Crown also didn’t call the landlord to testify about the specific living arrangements in the rental property.
As a result, Pinx said the possibility exists that someone else put the drugs in the kitchen cupboard without Scarlett’s knowledge. He called the fortification of the house a "red herring", suggesting Scarlett took the extreme steps because he was living in a high-crime neighbourhood.
The trial judge agreed, saying several other potential explanations had been raised by the defence.
"Clearly Scarlett had access to the premises but, arguably, so did other individuals. Accordingly, no evidence was submitted that Scarlett knew of the drugs or had an element of control over them," said McKelvey. "I would agree that it would have been prudent for the police to have conducted a more thorough investigation."