Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teen assaulted with metal bar

Gangster charged in random attack gets bail

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A well-known member of the Manitoba Hells Angels who allegedly broke the arm of a 14-year-old leukemia patient has been released from custody -- despite strong objections by justice officials.

Full details of the Aug. 5 random attack in Winnipeg emerged for the first time Friday at a bail hearing. There is no publication ban on the proceedings.

Rod Sweeney, 45, is charged with aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. He had been in custody since his Aug. 13 arrest. None of the allegations has been proven and he is presumed innocent.

"An unprovoked attack on a child is something the public would be outraged by," Crown attorney Carla Dewar told court Friday. She suggested Sweeney is a major risk to public safety.

"In order to maintain confidence in the administration of justice, his detention is necessary," she said.

But provincial court Judge John Guy disagreed, ruling Sweeney could return to the community under conditions that include a 10 p.m. curfew and $2,000 surety.

The victim and his 27-year-old uncle were attacked as they rode their bikes in the back lane of Molson Street near Concordia Avenue in East Kildonan.

'An unprovoked attack on a child is something the public would be outraged by' -- Crown attorney Carla Dewar

The teen has been sick with cancer for several years and never learned to ride a bike, something he was embarrassed about, court was told. His uncle, who lives in the neighbourhood, was giving him secret lessons.

"He asked him to do this under the cover of darkness, so to speak," said Dewar.

But things took a violent turn when a man began screaming at them from behind a fence of a nearby home.

"What are you doing?" the stranger yelled, the Crown said.

"It's a free country, we can ride our bikes," the uncle replied.

The man told the pair he'd been watching them on surveillance cameras from inside his home. He vowed to "teach you a lesson," then appeared moments later in the lane. He was carrying a large metal bar that was used to strike the boy on the arm, breaking it. The uncle was also punched repeatedly and had a bicycle thrown at him.

The uncle identified the attacker as Sweeney when provided with a police photo lineup. The boy wasn't able to make such an identification.

Sweeney, who lives in the home where the victims say the "voice" came from, was contacted by police and denied any responsibility. He agreed to turn himself in, but left the city and didn't do so until eight days after the attack.

By then, police executed a search warrant at his home on Molson and say the recording device for his surveillance system had been removed, thereby preventing any videos from that night from being monitored.

"The presumption is that there's something there that has been removed," Dewar said Friday.

Sweeney has presented his alibi. He claims he was out fishing at a friend's Gimli-area cottage at the same time he was alleged to have attacked the two victims in Winnipeg.

That friend, Roman Winter, testified Friday at the bail hearing and swore Sweeney couldn't be responsible.

He described their evening of fishing, detailing what they caught. The Crown attacked his story, suggesting Winter is trying cover for someone he said has been his friend for more than two decades.

Dewar urged the judge to put "very little if any weight" on it.

Defence lawyer Gerri Wiebe told court Sweeney can't be kept behind bars just because he happens to be a member of the Hells Angels.

"That's a red herring being dangled in front of you," she said. "Mr. Sweeney is cloaked in the presumption of innocence."

Guy agreed, saying he has to consider the strength of the Crown's case in determining bail. He said it's clear there are issues that will have to be litigated later.

And while Sweeney has a lengthy criminal record, including several acts of violence, it's virtually spotless during the past 10 years.

"The Crown has not met the onus," said Guy.

Sweeney's brother, Dale Sweeney, is the president of the Manitoba Hells Angels and is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for his role in an elaborate drug operation.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2013 A3

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