The Crime Scene

with James Turner

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  • "I still have potential," says 'homeless hero'

    04/14/2014 7:40 PM

    One of Winnipeg's saddest stories continues to unfold.

    Today, Faron Hall — best known as the city's 'homeless hero' — was handed yet another stint in jail after yet another violent outburst fuelled by alcohol, and his alcoholism.

    He got five months in total in the clink from Judge Mary Curtis, after pleading guilty to assault with a weapon and breaching the terms of a probation order requiring him to not be intoxicated in public.

    Just days before that Dec. 31 breach that saw him greet the new year from inside the Remand Centre, Hall had been faithfully attending AA meetings in St. Boniface three days a week. He was bailed out after a week, but three weeks later wound up rearrested.

    The Shopper's Drug Mart security guard a drunken Hall struck in the eye with a "pager," after Hall was spotted apparently trying to steal some sunglasses from a display in early February, suffered no lasting injuries.

    Hall, nearing his 50th birthday, has roughly 3.5 months left to serve behind bars, but will likely get out in half that due to early-release policies.

    I won't belabour Hall's history, and how he became a household name in Winnipeg.

    You can watch and read about his heroism here, here, and here.

    (You can also read about the other Faron Hall — the public "nuisance" who drinks and sometimes gets violent — here, here and here.)

    But, as Hall tells it, the heroism most remember him by came with a major price.

    He had to make a choice to save one life.

    The cost of that decision was the life of another. Something he says haunts him to this day.

    Here's Faron Hall's lucid, intelligent and lengthy speech to Curtis today in courtroom 308.


    "To be honest, my alcohol in the last few years — it's like a coping mechanism to me. I was in the paper for saving a couple people from drowning, albeit the last one, I was able to save a young lady, but a really good friend of mine, he perished in the river because I had to let him go to save the other lady.

    "The guilt that I carry on my shoulders, it still bothers me and my doctor says I might be suffering from post-traumatic stress. Which may be because living in St. Boniface every day I have to travel over that same bridge to get home. Just my coping mechanism is, is just how I deal with this. My only … I meant no ill will towards the crime prevention officer in the Shoppers Drug Mart. I don't consider myself to be a mean-spirited individual, you know."


    Curtis: You're obviously a different person when you've been drinking.

    "Yeah, that is correct, Your Honour. And the shame that I feel the next day just for that two seconds of euphoria where I forget all the troubles and all the guilt and everything. Sure, that's maybe, possibly what I look for, but the thing I've come to realize is that the next day, it just comes back two-fold, I guess you could say.

    "And it's hard for me. Depression, the anxiety. I'm always asked if I'm suicidal, do I have suciadal thoughts. And my first response is: 'no I don't, I don't feel that way,' but I don't know Your Honour. Maybe deep down, maybe it is something in that regard, boiling somewhere down there where it's my only way to deal with my emotion, my emotional aspects right now.

    "I feel that I have a lot to offer still, right now."


    Curtis: Agrees with Hall, and notes ironically how the alcohol he drinks doesn't just get him drunk and into trouble — it also becomes a path by which he gets sober, because he inevitably winds up in jail and unable to access liquor.


    Hall continues:

    "… (Alcoholism) is an illness, and it is hard once you're in the clutches of it — it's just overcoming it — that's the battle within itself and you're right, being in custody all the time, it's not going to come to an end.

    "… I just want to give it another chance, and not to be given up upon. Because I still have potential."


    Curtis: Well, it appears the one who gives up on you is you, from time to time.

    "That's true, Your Honour."




    It's impossible to understate the level of loss Hall has suffered during his life.

    Not least of which are the fact his mother was murdered years ago, a sister stabbed and that many of his relatives have drank themselves to death.

    Hall's story is so, so sad. At least it is to me. And I don't mean that in a judgemental way. I don't know if I'd have the strength to go on if I'd been through what he has.

    But despite that, I still believe him when he says he's not ready to give up just yet.

    I guess time will tell.


  • Chad Davis murder trial: Charging forward

    03/27/2014 3:21 PM

    In any jury trial, the judge's reading of the charge and her instructions to jurors are right up there with the most important of tasks and developments in the court process. 

    In a complex case, the crafting of an appropriate charge can take many days, many re-drafts and much collaboration and input from the lawyers from all sides.

    In the Davis case, it was no different.

    The beauty of the charge is not only does it lay out the law for jurors and the guide it provides them to try and reach a just verdict, it also offers a review of the most salient points of evidence from all sides of the case.

    It's this key document and these words from Justice Brenda Keyser that jurors took with them to their room to secretly deliberate the first-degree murder case against Corey Tymchyshyn and Kristopher Brincheski.

    Both men have now signalled their intentions to appeal their convictions, and Brincheski, his sentence.

    One of Tymchyshyn's complaints to the appeals court is that he feels Keyser's instructions in reference to the evidence went off the rails and contributed in some way to his wrongful conviction.  

    We'll see how that claim pans out down the road.

    This will be my last post on the Davis trial, barring any urgent matters that might crop up.

    I had more planned, but given the appeals are forthcoming, It's likely better use of time to focus on that instead of dredging up stuff from the past that obviously didn't have much relevance at the trial proper.

    I'll revisit that decision should an unexpected issue involving some undlsclosed element crop up during the appeals process.

    It probably goes without saying that through this blog, I've hopefully been able to at least try and give readers a comprehensive sense of the Crown's case, the evidence presented and the amount of dogged work RCMP and Winnipeg police did to figure out what happened and prove it in court.

    To me, what better way to cap the trial coverage than to give people the one thing they'd need to read to understand how it came together, the serious issues at stake and an official review of all that was disclosed publicly? 


    Tymchyshyn and Brincheski Charge-REDACTED by James Turner


  • Mapping break-ins prompts bigger questions

    03/23/2014 7:20 AM

    It's a curious, curious tale, I figure.

    A young (apparently) eastern European man with no criminal record or history of trouble with the law is spotted as a suspicious person inside an Elmwood apartment block, where witnesses say they noticed the "unassuming" stranger had a backpack and pick-like objects on him.

    And then, boom: he's charged (and presumed innocent) with 35 break and enter-related counts in connection with police reports which had been piling up in the back offices of the East and West Districts for a year. 

    What makes this case curious is the apparent level of sophistication. 

    If what's been alleged proves true, the burglaries involved the use of lock picks and a special "high frequency" listening device, ostensibly to assist in picking said locks.

    In other words, these were no basic smash and grabs.

    I've mapped out the numerous break-and-enter events and their timing, which all occurred at apartments.

    Results of that effort are below.

    Now, I had limited data to work with, just the dates of the alleged offences and the block addresses at which they happened, and in most cases a gender of the person who lived there. 

    But even this small amount of data, when laid out on a map, raises certain questions.

    At the top of the inquiry pile is: Were these B&E's targeted events? Was the culprit somehow led to these specific addresses after being tipped off that something of value could be found there?

    Initially, between March 2013 and the end of April, the target sites were apartments in Transcona and North Kildonan.

    But then, to kick off May, there was an event on Clayton Drive - many, many kilometres away from the usual area of interest.

    By June, it becomes a hodgepodge of locations, stretching into south Pembina Highway. It's weird.

    Then comes a month-long recess in activity that concludes with an event on St. Anne's Road - but resumes back in Transcona, at a block which had already been hit several times before.

    Then, consider the four-month gap in events between 22 October, 2013 and mid-February back in Transcona. What went on in this period? Note, also that the Oct 22, 2013 event took place at the exact apartment where the suspect was collared this past week.

    You can read about that encounter here.

    Now, it could be that there were other events in the intervening months which simply weren't reported to police. That's entirely possible.

    But what we're left with given the charges and the timing of the allegations is the possibility this was just the tip of the iceberg. 

    I wonder, as would anyone, about the contents of the suspect's backpack, and what was discussed — if anything — in his police interview after his arrest.

    I also wonder about the story of a note being left behind at the Oct. 22 event on Poplar Avenue — one stating the thefts were as a result of a lack of legitimate employment in Canada for immigrants, and that a group of people was behind that break-in.

    As I said: It's a curious case. 


  • Manitoba Auditor General: Report on adult corrections, in full

    03/19/2014 8:40 AM

    [Edit, note on March 20, 2014: I erroneously assumed the AG's findings, presented below, were the full meal deal on the Adult Corrections departmental audit. This was incorrect. The full, full report is embedded below. Thanks to collegue Bruce Owen for the correction and the link. -- JT.]  

    So, the auditor general of Manitoba dropped this today. I highly reccomend reading it in full.

    Special attention required in section on "adult offenders in the community" section. 

    Among the biggest concerns among the many raised that I can see: "In 2012, citing unmanageable workloads, the Department reduced offender supervision standards in 3 regions, allowing staff to meet less frequently with offenders and for shorter periods of time than would otherwise be required."  


    In general, the Department had no means of determining if rehabilitation programs were achieving positive outcomes for offenders. Tracking of program offerings, enrolments, completions, and outcomes was limited and, in some cases, non-existent. (H/T Mike McIntyre)

    From the report:  

    "Chapter 6: Managing the Province's Adult Offenders

    The Department of Justice manages approximately 10,000 adult offenders. About 24% are in provincial correctional centres; the other 76% are supervised in the community. The audit examined how adequately the Department managed adult correctional centre capacity, adult offenders in the community, adult rehabilitation programs, and related public performance reporting.

    The audit found that the Department's management of its adult correctional centre capacity was inadequate for its long-term needs. Although it had increased capacity by 52% since 2008, overcrowding in centres was on-going; offender population forecasts were not always reliable; there was no comprehensive long-term capital plan to address either the forecast bed shortfall or the deterioration in aging correctional centre infrastructure; and initiatives to help reduce bed demand required greater attention.

    There were also problems in managing adult offenders in the community. While the Department had a number of policies in this area, the audit found that offenders were not always adequately supervised; their rehabilitation plans needed improvement; supervisors were not regularly reviewing staff's work to ensure it complied with standards; and management had reduced offender supervision standards in 3 regions to resolve workload issues.

    In addition, there were gaps in planning and monitoring adult rehabilitation programs, and limited public information provided on how well the Department was managing its adult offenders.

    Taken together, these issues affected the Department's contribution to public safety and reduced the likelihood of successful offender rehabilitation.

    A more detailed listing of findings in each area follows:

    Adult correctional centre capacity

    The Department was struggling to deal with a growing offender population. The overall occupancy rate in correctional centres on May 15, 2013 was 126% (and ranged from 110% to 145% in different centres) - even though the Department had increased capacity by 52% since 2008, adding 651 beds at a cost of $182 million. Measures to accommodate overcrowding (such as double-bunking, triple-bunking, and adding dorm-style bunk beds in space previously used for recreation and treatment programs) had several negative impacts, such as restricting offenders' access to rehabilitation activities and increasing security risks.

    The Department's system of ad hoc capital planning was inadequate for its needs. It had no system-wide, clearly defined accommodation standards and the rated capacity of centres was determined subjectively. Offender population forecasts were not always reliable or sufficiently detailed for management purposes. There was no comprehensive long-term capital plan to address the shortage of 2,744 beds anticipated by 2019/20, the deterioration in aging correctional centre infrastructure, or the likely significant costs. And the Department did not use a rigorous or transparent process in the recent selection of a new correctional centre site.

    The Department also needed to give greater attention to initiatives with the potential to reduce bed demand, such as those reducing the average time to trial and case disposition, diverting offenders with drug and mental health problems to treatment programs, and supporting lower risk offenders in meeting bail requirements.

    Adult offenders in the community

    The Department had a number of policies in place for managing offenders in the community, but they were not always embedded in operational practice. There was a lack of effective and consistent supervision of offenders, affecting the Department's contribution to public safety. And deficiencies in case management decreased the potential effectiveness of offenders' rehabilitation plans.

    While risk assessments were prepared for all offenders in the files examined, 34% of those completed in the community were late, causing some offenders to initially receive less supervision than they otherwise would have. In several cases, probation officers were not scheduling on-going meetings with offenders as frequently as required by Department policy for offenders' risk profiles. They were also sometimes inconsistent in monitoring offenders' conditions (such as attendance at programs), verifying offenders' self-reports about compliance, and responding to offender non-compliance. Case management plans were present in only 63% of the files examined; were not always done within required timeframes; and often lacked meaningful or measurable goals, specific planned interventions, or timeframes for achieving these. And supervisors were not regularly reviewing staff's work to ensure it complied with standards.

    In 2012, citing unmanageable workloads, the Department reduced offender supervision standards in 3 regions, allowing staff to meet less frequently with offenders and for shorter periods of time than would otherwise be required. Tracking additional data related to caseloads and the use of probation officers' time would improve the Department's ability to assess workload reasonableness.

    Adult rehabilitation programs

    The Department offered various adult rehabilitation programs through its correctional centres and community supervision offices, but gaps in the planning and monitoring framework for these programs hindered their potential effectiveness. The Department had started to provide more consistency and central direction, but more work was needed to identify offender needs and then align rehabilitation programs accordingly. The Department also needed to work with Aboriginal stakeholders to ensure that rehabilitation materials were culturally appropriate and met the unique needs of Aboriginal offenders, who accounted for about 60% of the adult offender population. And inter-agency coordination needed strengthening, particularly for shared, very high-risk clients.

    In general, the Department had no means of determining if rehabilitation programs were achieving positive outcomes for offenders. Tracking of program offerings, enrolments, completions, and outcomes was limited and, in some cases, non-existent. And a broader range of recidivism measures about the level of re-offending was needed for management purposes, including tracking results over longer times, for specific programs, and by offender risk categories.

    Public performance reporting

    The Department provided little public information on its management of adult offenders. This limited the ability of legislators and citizens to assess the results being achieved. Some jurisdictions reported much more information, particularly on overcrowding levels and impacts, and rehabilitation programs and outcomes."

    Chapter 6 Managing the Provinces Adult Offenders Web


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About James Turner

James Turner rejoined the Free Press as a justice-beat reporter in August 2013 after a number of years away working at other media outlets, including the Winnipeg Sun and CBC Manitoba.

A reporter in Winnipeg since 2005, he got his first taste of the justice beat as a former Free Press intern, then as the newspaper's police reporter from 2008-09.

Among the topics he's eager to cover are youth crime, street gangs, child-welfare and how the mental health and justice systems intersect.

An avid blogger and early adopter of Twitter, James (@heyjturner) loves to write long, much to the frustration of his editors.

He despises animal cruelty. He loves 80s music and his tubby labrador retriever.


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