Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A leopard can change its spots

An eye-opening encounter with a former gang banger

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I found myself in an awkward situation this month as I stood in my front yard locking eyes with a hard-core gang banger I'd met during a murder investigation in May of 2000.

"I know you," he said. "Did you ever work homicide?"

I immediately felt a surge of apprehension and fear run through my body as I searched my memory banks trying to access the digital face-recognition technology I'd developed during a 26-year career in policing. This scenario is a police officer's worst nightmare. No cop ever wants to see a known gangster standing in his front yard. Our homes are our sanctuaries, our place to relax and escape all the madness a career in law enforcement entails. It's also a place where the people we love reside. As a result, police officers go the extra mile to keep their addresses out of the hands of the criminal element.

If they know where you live, they can get to you and worse yet, they can get to your family.

It was only a matter of seconds before it all came back to me.

"T.M." I said.

"You remember me," he said with a sheepish grin on his face.

I remembered him alright.

I caught the case on May 27, 2000. I was one of two constables who were fortunate enough to be selected to the WPS homicide unit that year, an assignment previously reserved only for those who held the rank of detective sergeant and higher. I'd come to the unit in January, bringing more than 13 years of police experience with me that included more than six years' experience in plain clothes investigations. All that experience aside, I was still cutting my teeth as a homicide investigator.

T.M.'s case was the kind of case police officers generally refer to as a "s fest" -- a highly complex set of circumstances complicated by gang involvement and a significant number of victims, witnesses and suspects.

In this case, two rival street gangs had crossed paths near the intersection of McPhillips Street and Selkirk Avenue when the proverbial s hit the fan. Witnesses reported observing up to 10 suspects attacking three victims, punching them and kicking them until they lay motionless on the cold pavement. When police arrived at the scene, they located brothers Adrian Scott Bruyere, 19 and Nicholas William Bruyere, 18, both battered and in critical condition.

Both young men were rushed to hospital and received emergency treatment. Unfortunately, Adrian had been stabbed in the lower right side of his torso and died as a result of his injuries. Although stabbed in the back, bruised and covered in abrasions, Nicholas was treated and released from hospital.

'The truth is, kids join gangs because they have few options and little hope of having their basic human needs met elsewhere'

T.M., 18, somehow managed to run from the scene and make his own way to hospital before police arrived at the scene. He had been stabbed in the lower abdomen and was also battered and bruised. He would spend more than two weeks in hospital. When I first met him, he was lying in a hospital bed writhing in pain.

T.M. was a typical North End aboriginal gangster -- young, tall, lean and soft-spoken.

It always amazed me how shy and reserved the majority of aboriginal gang members were when you met them outside of their world.

Take away the alcohol, drugs, bros and bravado and you were often left with relatively normal kids. T.M. was no different.

In fact, he surprised me with his honesty and candour as he recounted the tragic events.

During our interview, he explained he was one of the founding members of a street gang called Nine-O and he held the rank of vice-president.

His close friend Adrian Bruyere was a fellow Nine-O gang member while he described Nicholas Bruyere as an associate. The Nine-O and Indian Posse street gangs were bitter rivals and had frequent conflicts over turf.

The investigation revealed T.M. and the Bruyere brothers were caught "slippin" on Indian Posse turf and were attacked as a result. The rabid pack of Indian Posse gang members were led by a notoriously violent IP street gang member known as Sheldon Anthony McKay. At the time of Bruyere's killing, McKay already sported a record after being convicted as a young offender at age 16 for the 1992 throat slashing of his girlfriend's mother.

McKay was nothing less than pure evil. He was a tiny man who stood about 5-6 and weighed around 160 pounds. He had "F You" and the Tasmanian devil tattooed on his right arm. He was an extremely aggressive, hostile and dangerous sociopath.

McKay and a number of other Indian Posse gangsters were charged with Bruyere's killing. McKay was subsequently convicted of manslaughter and received a life sentence. He was murdered in prison by his Indian Posse brothers in 2006.

Nicholas Bruyere and T.M. were extremely lucky to have escaped the McPhillips Street gang attack alive -- a revelation not lost on T.M.

But what was he now doing in my yard?

Well, around mid-summer, I'd noticed a lush patch of dark, green grass growing on my otherwise hard, desiccated lawn. By the fall, our yard turns into a concrete-like surface after our oak trees soak up every last bit of moisture in the ground. Upon closer inspection, I noticed water beginning to pool in an area next to the driveway. This was not good news; my main water line had sprung a leak and it would be my responsibility to complete the expensive repairs.

Half a dozen quotes later, I settled on a company that came highly recommended for their solid work and affordability.

Enter T.M.

As I looked out my front window, I saw the backhoe arrive and a crew of five or six men starting to prepare the site for excavation. I barely noticed the young aboriginal man standing beside me as I exchanged greetings with the man running the crew. That's when the unlikely conversation occurred.

"I know you," the young aboriginal man said. "Did you ever work homicide?"

Thirteen and a half years later and T.M. was standing in my front yard with a shovel in hand preparing to start a hard day's work.

"Nice to see you're working," I said.

"I got out of all that s after that happened," he said. "I changed my life."

That he did.

When I spoke to his boss, I learned T.M. was a valued, dependable employee. So valued, his boss financed a car for him after the banks rejected his loan application as an untenable risk. Not only was T.M. a hard worker, he also played the role of taxi driver, jumping in his car every morning and picking up all of his co-workers so they could be on the job site at 7 a.m. sharp.

By the time the job was completed, I was literally amazed by T.M.'s work ethic, discipline and easygoing pleasant nature. I was even more surprised to hear he was pursuing a career in standup comedy and had performed several gigs at a local comedy club.

When the time came to pack up their tools, T.M. knocked at my door.

"It was nice seeing you again," he said. "The next time I have a standup gig, I'll come knock at your door."

"That would be great," I replied.

As he walked away, I recalled discussions that took place during my attendance at the Gang Action Interagency Network Forum held in April of this year. The group largely agreed kids join gangs because they have needs that aren't being fulfilled: social needs, the need for self-esteem, love, a sense of belonging, opportunity, identity, security and employment.

To immature, young and impressionable boys, the false promise of gang life "appears" to provide these things.

The truth is, kids join gangs because they have few options and little hope of having their basic human needs met elsewhere.

T.M. is an example of an entrenched gang member who recognized he had an option before he ended up dead or in jail doing a life sentence.

It's a simple equation:

Options + Opportunities + Young Urban Males Gang & Crime Reduction

The time has come for our political leaders to get the message.

In the meantime, I won't be losing any sleep because T.M. knows where I live.

 

This story first appeared in James Jewell's blog, The Police Insider. Follow it at thepoliceinsider.com.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2013 0

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