Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hells Angels 'family' on trial

Crown begins case in street shooting

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Full-patch Hells Angels member Dale Sweeney tried to kill rival biker Kevin Sylvester on busy Portage Avenue last summer to avenge the public shooting of his brother, a Court of Queen's Bench trial heard yesterday.

In his opening statement, Crown attorney Bob Morrison recounted a violent history between the Sweeney and Sylvester families, which spilled on to city streets last year. An opening statement consists of allegations which the Crown will try to prove in the upcoming trial.

Dale Sweeney is facing a charge of attempted murder.

Although the Hells Angels have become notorious for their activities in organized crime, drugs and prostitution, Morrison said yesterday this case is all about family.

The Hells Angels "family" decided they were going to take care of Sylvester, rather than let police do their job, after he nearly killed one of the Angels' own, said Morrison.

"The police were not going to be used to obtain any level of justice in this case," he told Justice Perry Schulman.

Rod Sweeney, a full-patch member, was shot five times last June after a confrontation with Sylvester on an Elmwood street. Sweeney's two-year-old son was splattered with Sweeney's blood while sitting in the passenger seat of his truck, but suffered no physical injuries.

Sylvester pleaded guilty earlier this year to reduced charges stemming from that attack, and struck a deal with the Crown to testify against Dale Sweeney in exchange for a two-year jail term.

He is expected to take the witness stand tomorrow or Thursday.

According to the Crown, Sylvester believed Rod Sweeney played a direct role in the May 1998 disappearance of his brother, Darwin, the former president of the now defunct Spartans motorcycle gang. Police presume Darwin Sylvester was murdered, but his body has never been found.

Kevin Sylvester was riding his motorcycle last June when he spotted Rod Sweeney, who he had known for years, and pulled up beside him, said Morrison.

"At first, the conversation was civil. But Mr. Sylvester's nephew had run afoul of Rod, and comments made by Mr. Sweeney led Mr. Sylvester to believe his nephew was in danger," said Morrison.

Sylvester pulled out a handgun and opened fire, striking Sweeney five times. Sweeney flung open his car door, knocking Sylvester down, and ran from the scene. Sylvester also sped away.

Several area residents either heard or witnessed the shooting, including one who came to the aid of Sweeney's bloodied son and waited with him for police, court was told.

At the hospital, Rod Sweeney and other gang members refused to speak with police. Police saw Dale Sweeney communicating with his brother by writing questions down on a paper, to which he responded by nodding his head, Morrison said.

"Once they were done, he put the pieces of paper in his mouth and ate them. The only reasonable inference to draw is they were speaking of the offence, and they were intending to deal with the matter themselves," he said.

On July 19, Sylvester was driving his Mustang down King Edward Street when a white SUV and black pickup truck began following him, said Morrison. The vehicles caught him in a back lane and an occupant opened fire, striking his trunk and window. Sylvester escaped unharmed, said Morrison.

On July 31 at about 3 p.m., Sylvester was heading to his lawyer's office when he spotted the same white SUV in his mirror. While trying to avoid that vehicle, the black pickup truck suddenly pulled up beside him on Portage Avenue and shots were fired, he said.

Five landed in the car, while four others missed and landed in the area. Several motorists and pedestrians were sent scurrying for cover.

According to the Crown, one witness identified Dale Sweeney as the gunman.

Another witness was cut off by a black truck on a nearby street about one minute later, and identified the driver as Sweeney. She told police she saw him leave the truck with a bag and head towards a garbage bin, only to return empty-handed.

Security was at normal levels for the start of the trial, and no members or associates of the Hells Angels were visible in court.

The wave of shootings left the police struggling to keep a lid on the violence. Similar concerns are being raised for this upcoming summer, although this time sources say threats have been made by the bikers against city police.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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