The Last Time I Almost Got Shot

[What you are about to read is true. It happened.  One day, out of the blue, Cops broke into my home arrested me for trafficking and held me at gunpoint. Then it was over and they went away.  If any of you wonder, I will quite readily admit that given the statistics, there’s a chance that if I was native or black, or if I’d acted differently, I could have been dead.

Ignore the picture by the way. That’s an illustrative image I’ve taken off the internet. The persons depicted in it had nothing to do with what happened to me.]

There I was, sitting back, in my bathrobe, checking my email, breezing through web sites, watching some saturday morning cartoons and unwinding a little before going downstairs to work on the bathroom.

And I notice, looking out my picture window, a couple of men in dark uniforms jumping out and running up my drive way. I had a big picture window, but the curtains were gauze. It looked like they were police officers running up my driveway with weapons drawn. But I hadn’t called 911, there was no emergency. Maybe they were ambulance attendants rushing up, and heading to the wrong house.

My first thought is that my neighbors are having some sort of domestic crisis. Maybe a heart attack. Or some domestic dispute. Their driveway is right next to mine, so sometimes on a quick glance, it can be a little confusing as to which driveway. But no, it definitely looks like mine. They’re heading to me.

So I go over to the front door to open it and see what they want.

As I get there, they burst in, screaming “Freeze, get down on the floor! You’re under arrest for trafficking in cocaine!”

They’ve got a shotgun pointed at me. The other one has a pistol in a two handed grip. They’re both screaming. And their orders are contradictory. That’s my first thought. Do I freeze? Or do I get on the floor? If I freeze, will I be shot for getting on the floor? Or if I get to the floor, will they shoot me for not freezing.

Since that time, I’ve noticed consistently in these situations, when you watch videos of police encounters, is that the Cops give a flurry of contradictory orders. Do this! Do the opposite! Their adrenalin is pumping, they’re excited, the words and orders are tumbling out. I don’t think they even notice. And if it’s two cops, it’s guaranteed that they’ll both be barking orders, keying each other’s adrenalin up, but not actually listening to each other as they contradict each other. Excitement and tension is speeding time up for them, commands tumble one after another. The decision to shoot or not shoot is down to seconds or milliseconds, and the victim is trying to process what’s been said, he’s slowing down as they’re speeding up.

I’m not surprised when people get shot. You’re suddenly stuck in a situation completely unfamiliar, the police are freaking out and barking contradictory orders. Which one do you obey, or not obey? Will you die for obeying or not obeying? You’re in the twilight zone, you don’t know what to do. You try and think, and meantime they’re freaking out.

I’m honestly surprised, given the inconsistent and contradictory behaviour of police in these situations that more people don’t get shot. It certainly does put a spin on the number of police shootings in the United States.

So, they’re screaming contradictory orders at me. I just put up my hands, moving carefully so as not to get shot, and get down on the floor. I’m doing it slowly, so as not to startle them. They keep pointing the shotgun at me.

Oddly, I’m not scared. My pulse is picked up a bit, but its not any kind of intense physical reaction. No panic, but no denial either. There are a lot of things that I could do in a state of denial, like bawling for a lawyer or resisting arrest, or trying to pull out a wallet, or just mouthing off, that could ratchet up tension and potentially get me shot. So I just stay calm and attentive, no sudden moves.

Here’s the strange thing. As I’m on the floor, I’m kind of aware of everything. I’m aware I’m in a bathrobe, not tied tight, with nothing else. I’m aware the front door is wide open and its freaking cold outside. I’m aware of their excitement, they’re twitchy and keyed up. They’re talking loudly and rapidly. Adrenalin? Or drugs? Not sure. How good is their judgment?

I’m aware of embarrassingly large dust bunnys. Dust rhinos. They’re huge. The floor is filthy.

It’s funny what goes through your mind. It had been a bad six months. My marriage had fallen apart and my wife had moved down to Winnipeg. I’d been in a vehicle rollover and almost died. I’d had a close encounter with a black bear in the middle of town. I was broke and swirling towards bankruptcy. I hadn’t been able to replace the car, so now I walked everywhere. I just wanted to quit, pull up, sell the house and move on with my life. But I couldn’t sell the house. So now I was alone, I was renovating the basement, trying to upgrade it to make it salable and maybe get out from under. I was depressed. It was probably one of the worst times of my life.

I hadn’t been keeping the place up. I wasn’t keeping myself up. If I didn’t have to shower or shave or even put on clothes for work, I didn’t bother. I was doing renovations, but apart from that… who cared if I tracked mud into the house. Not the cat.

So the floor was filthy. There was footprints, and grit all over, dust bunnys by the fireplace. I was actually embarrassed at the condition of my floors. I hadn’t noticed. But now that I was down at eye level with the floor, it seemed immense. I wished that I could ask them to step outside for fifteen minutes while I did a quick sweep and make the place presentable for them.

But I knew they wouldn’t go for it.

“What’s this about?” I asked.

“You are under arrest!” They’re still shouting. And they’re repeating themselves.

“Okay, I understand that,” I said patiently. “What’s this about?”

“You are under arrest for trafficking in cocaine. We have a warrant to search this place.”

Okay.

“I deny the offense. I do not traffick. You can search, but there are no drugs here.”

“Do you live here?”

“Yes.”

“Whose house is this?”

“Mine.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“Six years, about.”

“Are you Roger Dram?”

This is the point where… it didn’t make sense. This was still insane and out of the blue, and they were still in their hopped up on drugs or adrenalin screaming phase. But now I had a name, that I’d sort of heard of. It was an anchor.

“No.”

“Does Roger Dram live here?”

“No.”

“Do you know Roger Dram.”

“No.”

“Have you ever met Roger Dram???” They just kept getting more and more irritated by my responses. This was all about Roger Dram somehow, and they were getting frustrated because I wasn’t giving them what they wanted. It was like they were offended that I had no idea who their suspect was.

“No.”

“Was this Roger Dram’s house?”

“No, I bought this house from a Carl Dram through a realtor six years ago. I think Roger might be his son, from the sound of it.”

“Does Roger Dram ever come here?” They refused to let it go.

“No, I never met Carl Dram directly, or any of his family. The transaction was through a realtor. Neither he nor any member of his family have come here since I was here.”

At this point, a third officer has joined them. He seems to have pulled up behind the house and come in through the back. They’ve still got a shotgun on me.

“Okay,” one of them goes finally. “I know who you are. We’re going to search the house. He (one of the officers) will cover you and read you your rights.”

So two of them go off and search the house. They finally stop pointing the shotgun at me. I’m wondering though. If they know who I am, then why all these idiotic questions about Dram. What exactly are they doing? What do they suspect me of? And why? Has someone been telling them stories about me?

And what are they going to do when they don’t find something? We’ve all heard stories of police officers carrying around little bags of drugs for emergencies. All they need to do is drop it on the floor ‘find it,’ say it fell out of your pocket, and there you go. You’re busted.

For those of you who say that never happens, I have two responses:

Yes, it actually and documentably has happened on numerous occasions and officers have been caught or confessed to it. So yeah, it’s a thing. We can argue about how often that happens, but it happens.

The other thing is when you’ve had your home broken into, and are being held at gunpoint by two officers who are accusing you of cocaine trafficking, even when you know you’re absolutely innocent, especially when you know you’re absolutely innocent it’s, I guarantee you, you will be taking absolutely seriously the possibility that evidence might get planted on your property. I was looking at the possible start of a long nightmare. You take it seriously.

But there was nothing I could do, except stay calm, watch carefully and wait it out. They would do whatever they were going to do, and then I’d defend myself where and as I could.

Meranwhile, there I am on the floor in my bathrobe. It’s March 8, still winter in northern Manitoba, the temperature is sub zero. There door is wide open, and apparently, I am heating the great outdoors.

“Excuse me,” I say, “could you please shut the door.”

The officer who’s been assigned to watch me stares down with bovine incomprehension. He blinks.

“What door?”

At that point, it occurs to me that I’m dealing with an idiot. He’s standing right there, in front of my open front door. The door that he and his buddies just came through. And he’s going “What door?” What the hell.

But I explain I want him to shut my front door, and eventually he does it.

So … that’s a win, I guess. I’m still laying there on the floor in my bathrobe. I decide to try again.

“Can I stand up now?”

“All right.”

“Can I put on clothes.”

This makes him suspicious. His eyes narrow.

“Where are your clothes?” he demands.

‘Over there by my giant pile of cocaine,’ I think, but don’t say out loud. These guys aren’t bright, but they have guns and a license to use them, and there are three of them. I’m not going to win a fight. If anything happens, it won’t go well for me right then, and it won’t go well for me later on. And if they’re pissed off, there’s more chance of them ‘dropping’ some evidence on me. So I think a lot of sarcasm, but I don’t say it.

Cops are like bears. They’re dangerous, unpredictable and possibly stupid. You pay attention. You watch them carefully. You don’t trust them one bit, not ever.

I don’t understand people that mouth off to cops. That’s like deciding you can go up to black bear and give it shit. You might get away with it, but it’s an unnecessary risk. And if it goes bad… that’s it, you’re done.

So I just say, “over there,” by the computer in my living room, and point.

“Okay.”

So I get dressed.

“Can I sit down.”

“You can sit down over there.”

He points at the cats chair. The cat’s chair is a yellow sofa chair with a soft cushion that the cat likes to curl up in. The cat is gray. The cat sheds. The chair is gray. No one sits in the cat’s chair but the cat. I’m not going to sit in it.

“I’d rather sit down over here,” I say, and without waiting for permission, sit in my preferred chair. Nothing happens.

He seems bored. After all, he’s not the one turning down the house, busting into each room. I can hear them. Every room they announce themselves “Police!” I imagine they startle the cat, lounging on the bed. I can hear them slamming doors, and opening and closing dressers and cupboards.

He’s just looking after the prisoner, not the fun stuff.

At least I’m not in handcuffs.

“Are you going to read me my rights?” I ask. He should damned well do his job, and maybe if he talks, he’ll let something slip.

“I’m going to read you your rights now… blah blah, I’m under arrest, I have the right to a lawyer, they can provide me with legal aid’s phone number and call them for me, right to remain silent, no coercion, no rewards, etc.” I’ve heard it a thousand times in courtrooms.

I say I understand and that I do not need to speak to a lawyer, but I reserve the right to contact one at some later point. He nods and writes that down.

He’s not communicative, so I take the initiative. I repeat the history of the house. One previous owner, Carl Dram, listed on land title documents as a fisherman. Built in 1970, paid off the mortgage in five years. Bought through a realtor. Never met the man or his family. Heard he was a bootlegger. Heard his son or sons were drug dealers, but that’s just rumours. Dram used to be a cab driver, I met several cab drivers who knew him and knew the house. Four or five years ago a woman had come to the house looking for Dram and trying to sell me (probably hot) CD’s.

That gets some interest from him.

“When was this?”

“Four or five years ago.”

He loses interest again.

“You’ve had the house how long?”

“Six years.” I’m dealing with Sherlock Holmes, I think. But its not a strong sarcasm, and I don’t say it out loud. Everything I say is deliberately bland and neutral. No expression on my face. Neutral tone.

“We changed the locks when we moved in, obviously. There are four or five sets of keys though… I live alone with a cat.”

“Cat?”

“Yes, the litter box is over there,” I point towards it. “I travel. Someone has to come to look at the cat. So a couple of people have keys. The plumber has a key. The realtor has a key… But there’s not a lot of traffic. You saw coming up, there’s no tire tracks, and only my footprints going back and forth in the snow.”

I’m planting on my own. If they do ‘plant’ something, I want it established that other people have keys and access to the house when I’m not around. So anything they pretend to find could have come from someone else.

He nods. That gets through to him. He thinks about the empty driveway. It’s pretty clear that there’s not a lot of traffick from the sparse footprints. That’s not fitting a profile for a drug dealer or crack house. That’s all about steady traffic. I briefly thank myself for not shovelling out the last snowfall earlier this week. It’s been two cold, minus 40 mornings.

“So what’s this about, anyway?” I ask. “Something to do with Roger Dram?”

“Roger Dram listed this as his address on his driver’s license…”

“Ahhh.”

“Obviously, he was misleading. He didn’t want records for where he was really living.”

That sounded almost apologetic.

“So he put down his Dad’s old house,” I offer.

Nods.

“That must be it.” Concession.

The other officers come back. As I’ve said, I’ve heard them walking through rooms, announcing themselves, opening cupboards and closets.

I have umpteen boxes and cupboards and stuff. If they go through everything they’ll be here for hours, I think.

They won’t find drugs… unless they or someone else planted them, I review the keys quickly in my mind, think about the footprints. I’m sure that no one else has been in the house for at least a week, going by footprints in the snow.

But a thorough search? Even if you’re innocent of drugs, you find yourself second guessing, wondering what they might find culpable, if they were go go through every drawer, every magazine and book, every computer file. Even common household or farm items might take on new darker significance.

But the search is brief. Really, not much more than a walk through. It’s pretty obvious that this is just a batchelor’s home, that no one else lives here, and that wherever Roger Dram lives… its not here.

They give it up.

“Sorry to bother you. Here’s a copy of the warrant. If you have any questions, just call the officer. His name is on the warrant.”

“Thanks.”

I make a point of shaking hands. They don’t offer, but I insist, holding out my hand which they each take after hesitation. I’m not sure why. Maybe dominance, maybe just asserting some commonality… insisting that I’m a person, not a stranger or suspect, and through the handshake, pushing them to accept that.

I’m not happy, but it’s important to keep it civil. I offer to show them around the house, I’ve been doing renovation work, and I’m kind of proud of it. I offer to make them coffee. Really, I want them out of my fucking house. But I’m not going to lose it.

“Come by any time, I’ll put on coffee. I can put some on right now, if you’d like.”

They half smile, sort of awkwardly embarrassed.

“We’ve got other houses to raid.”

I nod, understandingly.

“Oh, okay. Well, you guys go have fun then.”

Apparently, they’ve got other houses to break into. So they make their excuses.

As they leave and they’re walking down my driveway, a thought occurs to me. I go out to my front door and call after them.

“Am I still under arrest.”

“Uh… no. Not any more.”

“Okay, well, see you around.”

Then they leave and drive away.

I examine the warrant. It occurs to me that I should have asked to see it sooner. Mental note to watch out for that. Probably won’t ever happen again, but you never know, and there’s scope for improvement here. I should access the warrant earlier in the process.

Yep. There’s Roger Dram, alleged to be trafficking cannabis (not cocaine? hmm), residence 1045 Tremauden. That trafficking cocaine thing seems to have been bullshit.

Items sought – Cannabis, Marijuana (same thing), packaging materials, scales, grinders (?), money, scoresheets, cellular telephones, pagers, correspondence, address books, telephone numbers, drug related paraphernalia, security storage safes, other illicit drugs and controlled substances.

Computers and other related electronic medium are present but have been crossed out. That’s a good thing, I think to myself. I’m a writer, I surf the net, there’s a lot of stuff, and I don’t think I’d have been happy about a fishing expedition from people looking for something to hang something on. They’d have had no authority to seize my computer or rummage through the contents. I would have been within my rights to object, or to block evidence.

As for the rest… I had no drugs, grinders, scoresheets, pagers, cellular telephones, paraphernalia or security storage safes… so, not much affiliated with drugs. Do I have scales. Not bathroom scales, but they weren’t looking for that. I’ll have to check the kitchen, there might be some sort of kitchen scale tucked away. Those things are commonplace.

But cell phones are pretty common now, practically everyone has them. Correspondence, address books, phone numbers. That’s a pretty wide net.

The warrant is from Winnipeg. Interesting. It wasn’t issued through the local court office, but faxed up from Winnipeg. I wonder why. Is the local court office compromised? Or is it some procedural thing?

Ah well. Might as well get to work. There’s the bathroom to work on. Housekeeping to do. I should take a walk, buy some salmon for supper.

It’s all over. My hands are still steady. I’ve had two guns pointed in my face. I’m vaguely surprised at my calmness. Should I be, or have been, freaking out more? Will I freak out later?

I don’t think I’ll lock the door today though. If they come back, I’d hate for them to bust the lock. I doubt they’ll be back. But it’s a strange way to start the morning, so who knows?
It’s snowing out. It looks nice.

This all happened to me on Saturday, March 8, 2008, at 10:30 in the morning.

****

In the aftermath of my Arrest and experience at gunpoint, I was vaguely surprised at how calm I was. I’d been cold and careful, watched and listened. I expected a reaction to kick in, but it didn’t.

I felt I should tell someone, and so I sat down and wrote an email sending it out to different friends.

Some of them simply didn’t believe me and thought this was some kind of story. Fuck you guys.

Others were horrified. I remember one person giving me advice to eat something immediately, because my body’s response would be to fill up with stomach acid. I didn’t, it didn’t.

I checked over the house. Nothing broken. The cat wasn’t traumatized. They hadn’t made much of a mess. It seemed to me that they must have realized they’d gotten the wrong house, but just decided to go through the motions anyway.

That made me angry. If they’d known early on that it was the wrong house, then get the fuck out. Don’t go on a half assed fishing expedition, just in case. I was glad I had tried to manage them and not provoke them. God knows, I didn’t want them here for six hours while they went through every box looking for something to pin on me. Or ‘dropping’ a bit of evidence.

The evidence of a half assed search suggested to me that they weren’t coming back.

But I wasn’t out of trouble yet.

Here’s the thing: I was living in The Pas. It was a small town. The place ran on gossip, who’s sleeping with who, who was out drunk, who got busted. If the police were conducting raids, then presumably they’d get results. It would be all over town. There was a good chance that my name would come up, and I’d be connected to the big drug busts. Hell, I didn’t even trust the officers to keep their mouths shut.

And here’s the other thing: I was working for the Indian Band. The same Indian Band, that was on an anti-drug crusade. They had community meetings about it. They had hours of council meetings. They’d hired their own ‘pseudo-police’ anti-drug officer to fight drugs and harass drug deakers. That was firing and threatening to fire suspected drug dealers, banning them from the reserve, the whole nine yards. They were zero tolerance, and beyond zero tolerance. People were getting fired from their jobs, were getting thrown out of their houses. It was serious stuff. And I was just a white guy who worked on the reserve with no family connections to protect me.

Add those two things together, I was fucked. There was a good chance that once the stories made the rounds, I’d be fired Monday morning, just on suspicion. The band lawyer got raided by the police, while they were busting all the drug dealers? That would be enough. The suspicion would be enough. I could see the delegation of concerned citizens and elders marching on the Chief and Council.

I was already swirling towards bankruptcy as it was. I had no vehicle, no other job prospects, a house I couldn’t sell and was barely keeping afloat. Lose this job, especially for something like this, and I didn’t reckon my chances of finding another one. Definitely not finding another one fast enough to make a difference.

What could I do?

I sat down and wrote another email, and this one I played it funny. There was material there, all my mental sarcasm, the inept blundering, the frustrated pathetic Dram interrogation. I made myself the hapless clown in a comedy of errors. And then I sent it to the Councillors and the Managers I knew.

Monday came, and everyone was laughing on the reserve. For two weeks, people I didn’t even know would walk up and call me Roger Dram, and we’d have a good chuckle about it together. There was a delegation to the Chief, but he laughed it off.

So I’d saved my ass.

I was right, it was all over town too. A few times, townies asked me about it.

I was mostly normal, although I noticed I was hyper-alert every time a car drove by outside. Once a guy came from the Electric Company to my door, and I demanded to see his ID before I would talk to him.

But mostly, life settled back into its unhappy, dark rut.

After I’d reflected, I realized that I’d been quite lucky. I was doing renovations in the basement. I’d planned on being down there early that morning, but had had trouble getting started.

If they’d come bursting in when I was in the basement, would I have heard them? If I’d heard them, would I have investigated, maybe grabbed a crowbar? I could imagine surprising them, coming out of the basement steps with something in my hands? Good way to get shot.

Or if they’d come into the basement. Poor lighting, lots of noise and dust, short sight lines, their adrenalin jacked even higher by having to go into a potentially dangerous location. There were all kinds of tools I was handling, jigsaws, skillsaws, drills, a level with a laser pointer, crowbar, that could have looked like a gun to a twitchy guy on adrenalin.

It would have been really easy to get shot.

****

May 30, 2008.

This is a bit of a follow up. I contacted the court and requested a copy of the information that was used to swear the warrant. According to the warrant itself, you’re entitled to do that. So I wanted to see what they had.

It took me a few weeks to get it, well into April, actually. Eventually, I had to travel all the way down to Winnipeg for it. It turned out to be interesting.

Essentially, the story was that there was an informant. Some guy named pseudonamed ‘A’, a fixture in the local drug community, who made a few spare dollars now and then ratting out his fellow dealers and users.

We’re not talking heavy duty police work here. And in fact, this sort of approach tells us a lot about why the local police are so ineffective against organized street gangs. Because informants are not going to risk themselves selling out street gangs, instead informants prefer to inform where its safe… on the unorganized local dealers who are not tied or affiliated to networks that will track people down and fuck them up.

It’s ironic in a way, but the dynamic that comes to operate is that the Police end up doing the street gangs work for them. They clean out the local unorganized marijuana dealers, paving the way for organized gangs and crack dealers to take over the territory… organized gangs which they have no ability to deal with. Foxes and Rabbits.

This little insight immensely assisted me in understanding the remarkable spread of organized gang networks throughout northern communities. Our version of the Bloods and Crips is the Indian Posse and Manitoba Warriors, and over the last few years, its been frightening to see these gangs establish chapters throughout small communities all over the north. You think Gangs are an urban problem, but here they are on the doorstep.

Anyway, our ‘A’, the snitch, is not going to put his ass on the line ratting out the Indian Posse. But selling info on a local dealer, no problem. So, he provides a tip on a guy named Rick Lindsey.

The RCMP raided a guy named Rick Lindsey’s place. Lindsey was another of these local marijuana dealers. At Lindsey’s place they found Roger Dram’s truck with gas receipts from a trip to British Columbia in it. And they also found a bag on the premises (not in the truck) with an ounce of cocaine in it, 25,000 in cash, and some pay stubs in Roger Dram’s name from his employment with Tolko.

My first response on reading this was…. MORONS! What kind of drug dealer saves his receipts on a drug run to BC? What? He expected to write it off on his taxes? And keeping his name in the bag? What the hell was that “Thees Drugs Beelong to Roger Dram, if found pleese kall…..” How stupid would you have to be to keep identifying documents in with your drugs.

Not to be outdone, I heard from scuttlebut in the community that Lindsey apparently wasn’t any smarter. He’d been cunning enough to keep his drugs stashed outside his house, in a derelict car on his property. The trouble was, it was winter, snow covered the ground and other derelict vehicles. But he’d left a well worn path through the snow directly to that particular derelict, and had cleared the trunk of snow… He might as well have posted a neon sign with a big flashing arrow reading ‘Stash!’

And this is the state of law enforcement. It’s foxes and rabbits, pimps and hookers. It’s the way it works – foxes are only slightly faster than rabbits. Pimps are only slightly smarter than hookers. These are how smart the local master criminals are. To catch them, the police turn out to be only slightly smarter…. Which explains why they’re so at sea with real gangs, and so prone to blundering into the wrong house.

Here’s the thing. Both Dram and Lindsey were apparently well known as local ‘pound leve’ marijuana dealers for several years each. They had a good long run. Looking at the relative lack of sophistication of Dram and Lindsey…. they really were just rubes, ignorant local boobs, I find myself wondering. I mean, it strikes me that if they were just a little bit more sophisticated about security and stealth, a little less obvious… If they’d been smart enough not to leave trails directly to their stashes, save receipts from drug purchase trips, leave identifying papers in with the drugs… I mean, this is not a sophisticated level of play I’m seeing from these guys, but they’d been getting away with it for years. I assume if they had been just a little smarter, they’d still be getting away with it.

Ah well.

The long and the short of it is that the Lindsey raid pointed them at Dram. They looked up Dram on the Motor Vehicles database, and the next thing you know, they’re at my house.

Then I looked a bit more carefully.

The first thing that struck me was that there was practically no information regarding my home on Tremauden. There were three pieces of data in the warrant information. 1) The Motor Vehicles search in which it was found that Dram’s registered home address was Tremauden. 2) There was a check with an RCMP officer who had been stationed in The Pas but had relocated several years ago, indicating that Dram was a well known drug dealer and stayed with his girlfriend, but had a place on Tremauden. 3) They did a drive by, noting that there was only a single trail of footprints to and from the house.

Items two and three seemed pretty suspect. I mean, if you want corroboration… Why are you checking with some guy who hasn’t even been posted in the town for years. Up to date information? Not in the cards.

And the drive by should have been a tip. What kind of drug dealer’s house has no traffic?

The warrant information barely spoke to the address on Tremauden. It was so barely mentioned I actually went back to the clerk of the court to ask if they had given me the right information. This was it.

As I looked more closely, the sloppiness of the investigation became apparent.

I mean, let’s face it. The fact that Dram’s truck was on the premises proved absolutely nothing. There were no drugs in the truck, no incriminating materials. The gas receipts for the Vancouver trip proved only that Dram had been on a trip. Last time I looked, it wasn’t unlawful to take a road trip to the coast.

Dram’s pay stubs in the bag of cocaine is more damning, but not probative. We’ve got no evidence that it was Dram’s bag, or that Dram had put those stubs in there. Conceivably, a third party, like Lindsey, could have put Dram’s pay stubs in as a diversion. Likely? Dunno. Possible? Certainly, we’ve already seen that these guys were fond of ‘Tom and Jerry’ level antics.

The probative value of the evidence against Dram was extremely limited. Let me put it this way: On the evidence they had, they did not have enough to arrest Dram.

So what the hell were they doing arresting me?

The evidence on Dram, at best, only justified or amounted to probable cause for an investigation of Dram.

Now, here’s where things kind of get interesting. Where it gets into a work of fiction by the RCMP officer involved.

The officers knew Dram had a reputation as an associate of Lindsey’s and another pound level Marijuana dealer. They verified this with their informant, but didn’t get much in the way of useful detail.

Instead, they assembled the clues and came up with a theory. The clues were Dram’s vehicle, his gas receipts, the bag of money, coke and stubs, and quantities of money and marijuana in Lindsey’s stash and an …. (Wait for it)… EMPTY SUITCASE!

Yes, that’s right, the RCMP had found an Empty Suitcase in a residential home…. The horror!

Sorry. Sarcasm gets the better of me.

Anyway, the officer formed a theory that Dram and Lindsey had gotten together to participate in a big Marijuana buy out on the coast. That was why Dram had driven out there and had receipts. The empty suitcase had obviously been used to ship a large quantity of marijuana back. And clearly, there were more drugs to be found… likely at Dram’s place.

I kid you not. This was the theory. Miss Marple, eat your heart out.

And it all rested on an empty suitcase.

I dunno, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes an empty suitcase is just a fucking empty suitcase. Sometimes there’s just nothing further to it.

Now, the trouble is that within the information seeking the warrant, the Police have moved from facts (as in actual findings), and hearsay (reported by the informant) smoothly and almost imperceptibly to outright speculation and fabrication, creating a theory of a case to justify a warrant.

But when you examine the actual foundations of that theory, its pretty goddammed shaky. I mean: An empty suitcase? Jesus H. Christ. An apparently clean pickup truck? Gas receipts?

The only thing probative was the bag with Dram’s paystubs in it, and the informants hearsay and the police belief that Dram was a well known dealer.

On these slender and trembling reeds, the police had built their castle and sought their warrants.

I think that there’s a good case that the warrant was questionable and even invalid at this point. The evidence may not have justified a search warrant on Dram at all. It certainly didn’t justify an arrest of Dram… and in fact, they weren’t seeking to make an arrest within the warrant.

Okay, now here’s the next interesting part.

Having created a theory incorporating Dram, the police then had to figure out where the hell Dram was. Which is why they did the Motor Vehicles drivers license search.

But there was more information afoot. Apparently, Dram was well known to them. He was well known to RCMP officers who had left the community years before. They knew who Dram’s girlfriend was. They knew where Dram’s girlfriend lived. They had a description of Dram. They knew him by sight. The informant confirmed that Dram lived with his girlfriend, and confirmed her address.

They did an RCMP Database search on Dram’s girlfriend. *But not on Dram himself.* I find that failure to extend a basic search to Dram to be significant. Clearly, there were more options than just the Drivers License search available to them, and they exercised these other options on other people… but not Dram. Kind of dropped the ball there.

At this point, I opened a phone book. Yep. There was Dram. His residence listed was his girlfriends apartment on 3rd Avenue. I looked in a couple of phone books for previous years. There was Dram again, same phone number, different address – Kiche Maskanow. Previous to that, there was Dram, same phone number, this time the address was Valleyview Trailer Court.

That was interesting to me. In four years, Dram had changed address three times, keeping the same phone number throughout. The police were well aware of his current address, which told me that they were keeping some sort of tabs on him.

So, how can they be keeping enough watch to track him through one address after another, and yet, remain under the assumption that he’s also living at/residing in/owning a house which I’ve owned for six years? A house which was up for sale through realtors for two years before that? A house which Roger Dram never actually owned, it was always his father’s, and for which his residence was somewhere between 6 and 12 years ago. I don’t understand how their information can be up to date on the one hand, and a decade out on the other.

The phone book check? Took me all of thirty seconds. Apparently, that had been too complicated for the RCMP to bother with. Had they done it, perhaps there might have been some reasonable second thoughts.

In point of fact, as I’ve noted, there was no effort to verify the Tremauden address. They simply relied on the Drivers License check.

But here’s the thing. There’s no ongoing requirement for proof of residence for Drivers Licenses. It’s on the honour system, and in fact, there are various provisions for grace periods from two weeks to six months for people changing residence. So, its not exactly 100% reliable. Somewhat reliable perhaps, but no more than that.

Anyway, as noted, the Officers did a drive by of my place, noting the single trail of footprints back and forth. They saw this as evidence of Dram. He’d spent a week in BC, obviously, the house had been left alone.

Because you know… drug dealers always leave their itinerary with clients, so that if they have to go out of town, the customers will know not to bother dropping buy and the house won’t have signs of constant traffic…. That’s how they do it on planet Moron.

But here’s something fun. They did a drive by of Dram’s girlfriend’s apartment, and they spotted Dram in the window. They staked the place out and kept it under surveillance.

All the time that they were busting in on me and holding me under arrest at gunpoint, they knew exactly where Dram was, because they were watching him!

Now, I’ve written that the basic case for a search warrant on Dram was pretty damned weak. Well, it had gotten weaker. The case for Dram’s residence at Tremauden was based on a single search, and on obsolete information. There hadn’t even been an effort at due diligence, at even the most cursory corroborative search. No phone book check. No RCMP database check. God knows what else was available to them that they didn’t bother with.

It seems to me that even if a Judge accepted the loopy police theory and the rather flimsy evidence underlying it, there should have been some cottoning to the fact that the evidence of residence regarding Tremauden was even flimsier.

The search warrant was based on a house of cards – a few slender pieces of information, some rumours, one piece of probative evidence, several pieces of neutral information, and uncorroborated and unsupported assertions. It should never have been issued. It was a bad warrant. An invalid warrant, at least so far as my residence went.

But, there’s more. Typically, warrants authorize what you are allowed to do. A search warrant can authorize the arrest and detention of persons on the premises. This one didn’t.

Why not? Well obviously, that would have snapped even the Judge’s credibility. There was simply no information provided to justify an arrest in the information.

So why did they arrest me? And what grounds did they actually have? The only grounds to arrest me was the fact that I was on the premises. So, clearly a false arrest.

Information to support warrants also generally identify a level of risk. If a premises is likely to contain weapons, violent or volatile persons or situations, etc., this becomes part of the information used to justify the warrant. Nothing like that is found in the warrant information. The warrant itself doesn’t authorize search for or seizure of firearms or weapons.

So why come in with guns out and holding me at gunpoint? What the hell was that about?

More disturbingly: Both officers had their guns out. Neither had left themselves an option to secure. The only option they’d left themselves was lethal force.

I looked through a few cases of raids like this. In addition to armed officers, there are usually acquiring officers. The guys with the pepper spray or tasers, the guys who manhandle you into handcuffs. Not in this case.

Two guns, no handcuffs.

Which means that they’d really left no option but to shoot me. If I’d turned to run in panic… I could have been shot. If I’d appeared to be moving towards them, showing aggression, I could have been shot. If I’d been holding an object that they interpreted as a weapon. If I’d refused to comply with orders or complied with orders in a way they found provocative… Well really, the only choices they’d given themselves was ‘shoot him’ and ‘don’t shoot him.’

That was pretty damned disturbing.

It’s more disturbing when you consider that this moment at gunpoint comes at the end of a long chain of screw ups – a half baked theory of conspiracy supported by almost nothing, a failure to do even minimal checks of residence, a bizarre blind spot where they’re accurately tracking his residence from one place to another but somehow missing the boat on another, where there’s a warrant issued on invalid grounds, where they’re making an armed raid without any evidence to support use of force, where they’re making a false arrest based on presence…. This is a pretty ominous pattern.

Follow me for a second on this. A mistake is a mistake. Anyone can make a mistake, and a single mistake doesn’t really prove anything. But a consistent pattern of mistakes, mistakes made in all sorts of different ways… a chain of mistakes. Well, that produces a reasonable assumption, if you’ve got a chain, that the next link in the chain is a lot more likely to be a mistake as well.

I think I came a hell of a lot closer to being shot that day than I realized.

I think I was making assumptions about the competence of the officers that was simply not there. Or I made such assumptions afterwards. When it was actually happening, I don’t think I was making any assumptions at all. I was careful. If I hadn’t been as careful….

I dunno. It strikes me that I’m being almost melodramatic. On the other hand, I had a shotgun in my face from police who consistently screwed up all along the way, and whose big accomplishment had been managing to arrest a couple of people who were comic in their incompetence. How do you assess something like that? I think a shotgun in the face allows for some melodrama.

Anyway, after assessing the warrant and information used to obtain the warrant, I did case law searches on false arrest, invalid warrants, forcible raids, police misconduct, and drew my conclusions. There was a consistent failure to maintain the standards set by law.

If it was a simple mistake, that’s one thing. Anyone can make a mistake.

But this wasn’t a simple mistake. This was a collection. This was a series of incidents of bad judgement, sloppy police work, outright errors or failures of diligence. There were a whole series of things that had to go wrong for me to get a shotgun in my face, and had they managed to do it right at any point, it would have broken the chain and I wouldn’t have been looking down the barrel of a gun.

I suppose I could make allowances for the fact that it all took place within the space of a few hours. The Lindsey raid was about six am. The hot lead started there. My raid came four hours later. Under the rush of circumstance, things get overlooked, people are only human.

But then again, isn’t that exactly the circumstance that demands caution? The pell mell urgency of the moment, throwing caution to the winds… taking a few shortcuts to get the job done… Isn’t that really where people wind up getting shot.

I mean, a more leisurely approach, well, they’d get around to due diligence, avoid the mistakes. But this sort of situation, doesn’t it become more vital to make sure that corners don’t get cut… simply because of the urge to do so? And as I said, isn’t that where people usually end up shot?

When it was happening, I went into an ice mode, where I simply focused on dealing with the situation, regaining some control, and resolving it in a way that didn’t get me shot or in jail, that got them out of my house. I found that I really had a remarkable lack of reaction.

But you know, I think people react to things in different ways.

I felt compelled to look further, to assess it, to understand it, and to draw conclusions. Had it met some sort of threshold, had I satisfied myself that there was no negligence, I would like to think I’d have simply resolved and concentrated on moving on. But that’s not the conclusions I drew.

That was the point that I got quite angry.

****

Not much more.

I pulled together my research, pulled together my case law, wrote up my comments and arguments and sent it in to the local RCMP detachment as a complaint.

I got a response back from the Staff Sargent along the lines of “Oh, you’re just trying to shake us down for money.”

That made me angry. I wanted a fucking apology for breaking into my home, holding me at gunpoint, searching my house when they knew they had the wrong house, and almost shooting me. So don’t blow me off, assholes.

By the way, the fact that I don’t use the names of the officers involved, or the Staff Sargent is not in any way a courtesy to them. When they were busting in and arresting me, they never bothered to identify themselves. I eventually learned the names, and it’s in a file somewhere. I’m just writing this from memory and old notes. If I ever bother to look up the file, I’ll add their names… Because to hell with them.

So I made a formal complaint. That went down to the main office, they assigned an Officer to investigate. I was interviewed over the phone. I was very calm and rational, until the point he asked me how I felt and what I wanted to see. I gave him both barrels.

Eventually the report came back, and I was informed that they had made a few technical errors.

So then I made a formal complaint to the ‘Independent’ Review Body. I don’t remember what it’s called.

Basically, some police departments have an external body that reviews complaints of misconduct. The idea is some kind of arms length entity will look at things objectively. Because when police investigate themselves, somehow, some people don’t find that credible.

Usually these bodies are staffed by ex-police officers, and prosecuting attorneys. So surprise surprise, if they can find a way to exonerate the officers, they usually do that.

I remember in Winnipeg, there was a Law Enforcement Review Agency set up. It received 400 complaints of police misconduct, and didn’t validate a single one. That seems statistically unlikely.

But you go through the process. That was the next step. I never talked to their reviewer. I guess I wasn’t worth an additional interview. But I did get his report. And that included some of the information supplied by the officers who had busted in on me. This was the first time I had the opportunity to see what those officers had said. I’m not persuaded that they were entirely honest or accurate about every detail. No surprise, the Independent reviewer said they’d handled it pretty badly, but he wasn’t willing to say that they’d done anything wrong.

I’m sorry, but I had the goddammed case law that set out the appropriate standards of police conduct, right there in black and white, and I had very clear points of negligence. The next step was to take them to Court.

It was coming up to a year. I had my second close encounter with a black bear. I counted that as my fourth near death experience in twelve months. Renovations were done. Still broke, still swirling down the drain. Still couldn’t find another job. But four near deaths in twelve months – the message was get out of dodge.

I decided to quit my job and move south. Start over, somehow. That about as much of a plan as I had.

So I moved. Eventually, after moving down south, the time limit was coming up to sue the RCMP. I just wanted to move on, and I let it go.

Doesn’t mean I forgave or forgot. Doesn’t mean they were in any kind of right. They were stupid fuck ups, and if they’d have ended up in court, they’d have been hammered.

But I wasn’t in a place at that point where I wanted to keep pushing.

****

That was the last time I almost got shot. I think that’s good.

There have been a few other times I had a gun in my face. I can’t say as I’ve ever enjoyed the experience.

It’s odd though. The other times, I reacted differently. Just took it for granted I guess. Irritated maybe, but mostly it just seemed like life’s bullshit. You deal, and move. I think I registered the persons holding the guns or firing the shots as assholes, much more than I gave significance to the gun. I’m not sure why that was. Maybe you feel more invulnerable when you’re young. Or maybe I was just crazier back then. I was definitely crazier way back then.

But I’ve had time to contemplate and reflect on the experience. I wasn’t afraid. But I was really calm and focused on managing the situation, to the extent it could be managed. To the extent I had any power over not being shot, I wanted and used that leverage. Maybe that made a difference, maybe it didn’t. It could certainly have gone worse.

I find I’m offended by the incompetence and the sloppiness. I’m pleased that even if I didn’t take it all the way to court, at least I made my opinion known to them. I made my opinion of them known to them.

Having gone through this, having gone through the aftermath of getting the affidavit, and doing the research and making the complaints, and all of that. Having considered this, and looking back on previous encounters, I think I’ve realized something.

I don’t like having guns in my face.

I really don’t appreciate it.

5 thoughts on “The Last Time I Almost Got Shot”

  1. I remember when you wrote about this event soon after it happened.
    The takeaway for me is remembering how you made sure your employers, the band council, knew of the event. The idea has stuck with me that when telling, you could cast yourself among the clowns in a comedy of errors. It might be hard -unnecessarily hard- to reform police procedure, but you showed me one way to make it possible to encourage a sense of solidarity among people vulnerable to police error.
    It’s no surprise to me that your book The Mermaid’s Tale is a powerful fantasy novel transcending violence and expectations. I’m looking forward to the prequel.

    Reply
    • Maybe it’s getting older, but people pointing guns at me bothers me now, a lot more than it used to. Go figure.

      Thank you for the compliment on The Mermaid’s Tale. Sadly, you may be waiting a long while for the prequel.

      Reply
  2. I’ve never been in an analogous situation but in any of my dealings with police it’s always struck me that they hire a lot of guys whose general approach to things cycles between stolid indifference and panicky, unthinking aggression. IMO, cops should need malpractice insurance. That, and enough training to ask themselves one basic question: “Is my gun going to be an asset or a liability in this situation?”

    Reply
  3. I have never faced drawn weapons by authority. That said, I have been at the business end of assault rifles twice.

    The first time was in December 1974, when as a 14-year old my effort to lose my virginity with the daughter of the British High Commissioner to Aden, Southern Yemen, was interrupted by a soldier upset that we were naked on the rocks below his lighthouse. Southern Yemen at the time was a Soviet client state, and therefore the lighthouse was a military installation and we were trespassing. Two rounds from his AK-47 ricocheting on the nearby rocks was all it took to convince us to relocate.

    The second time was personal. It was early July of the following year, 1975, and my mother and I had just walked through the gate from the Arab quarter of Old Jerusalem on our way back to meet the Canadian soldiers who were our ride back to Tel Aviv. Some Arab boys were playing football in a parking lot when a group of three teenage Orthodox Jews took offence, swearing at the children and then swinging their AR-15 assault rifles like clubs. I, of course, shouted for them to stop. A moment later, a chubby, sweaty, bespectacled boy with a Brooklyn accent had the muzzle of his weapon pressed into my forehead. ‘Should I kill you?’ he asked. ‘I can. I would not even be arrested.’ One of his friends was not so sure. ‘But he’s not Arab.’ He pulled his friend away, but the Arab children were unscathed.

    Reply
  4. What strikes me is that these guys are just doing their job in their half assed way..when you get highly motivated assholes armoured up like military and sent out to put down protesters, when they believe they’re dealing with a racial uprising or terrorists or etc, rather just some local small time punks, then there would have been no possibility of your surviving that.

    Glad that was 12 years ago and you’re ok.

    Reply

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