A break-and-enter and fraud suspect walked free from charges after Winnipeg police waited 47 months to execute an arrest warrant -- apparently because he was already in custody for other crimes and there was no urgency for officers to act until he was released, the Free Press has learned.
It's further evidence of the serious ramifications of "gating," which defence lawyers describe as a police tactic to keep criminals behind bars longer by arresting them on outstanding warrants only after they finish a jail sentence, not while they're still in custody.
Roderick Stranger, 28, was accused of breaking and entering a woman's home in December 2007, then, the next day, cashing one of the cheques he stole. Officers identified him as a suspect by January 2008 when he was in custody on other charges.
'Too many in the justice system are prepared to tolerate delay, may accept it as inevitable' — Judge Tim Killeen
Police obtained a warrant to arrest him for the break and enter and fraud on Dec. 9, 2008, but the warrant gathered dust and they didn't execute it until Nov. 9, 2012, nearly four years later. The arrest came two days after Stranger was freed from prison on statutory release.
Provincial court Judge Tim Killeen threw out the charges in July 2013, saying Stranger's charter rights to be informed quickly of the offences and a trial without unreasonable delay were trampled. By the time of Killeen's decision, well over five years had elapsed since police first identified Stranger as a suspect.
"It appears to be a situation where no one bothered to act. Urgency wasn't required, but routine would have sufficed," Killeen said. "Too many in the justice system are prepared to tolerate delay, may accept it as inevitable," Killeen said.
"It isn't and it shouldn't be. No victim of a crime should be waiting for years to find out what happened with their case, no warrant should sit in a drawer until police know the accused is out of jail. No accused should have to wait five-and-a-half years to face justice," he said.
Prosecutors pushed for the case against Stranger to proceed but provided no evidence on why the warrant was allowed to sit for so long. Corrections officials were also aware of its existence, Killeen found. He didn't say police acted deliberately to rig the system, but suggested there were unanswered questions on why events unfolded as they did.
"Although I have not inferred a deliberate attempt by police to delay the execution of the warrant to hold the accused after his sentence, I have no other reason or explanation before me," Killeen said. "People make mistakes and often an honest explanation can go a long way. It isn't present here."
The "most obvious conclusion," said the judge, is that police didn't see arresting Stranger as a pressing matter and didn't take action until they were somehow notified he was freed from prison.
"I find this to be troubling," Killeen said. "How could a serious crime be ignored in this way? At best, this approach was cavalier and completely disregarded the rights of the accused (and also) the rights of the victim."
On Tuesday, the Crown offered a plea deal to a young Winnipeg man, Justin Shorting, after it came to light police only arrested him on an outstanding warrant about an hour after he was freed from Stony Mountain Institution, where he had been serving a two-year term.
The warrant had been outstanding for 10 months while police knew he was in custody, a situation prosecutors called "ridiculous."
Killeen, also the judge in Shorting's case, said he was "profoundly unimpressed" by the police conduct. He noted it appears to be occurring fairly often.
The tactic is dubbed "gating" because it refers to police metaphorically waiting at the gates of a jail to rearrest a person once the individual gets out, defence lawyers say. "They're deliberately doing it -- it's cruel," defence lawyer Chris Sigurdson said Tuesday.
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