Two men accused of running a massive fentanyl trafficking operation have had all their charges dropped after a judge found their rights were violated by Vancouver police.
In his decision posted Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams said Dennis Alexander Halstead and Jason James Heyman were the victims of several “serious breaches” of their Charter rights during the months-long investigation that led to their arrests in 2015, forcing the evidence against them to be tossed out.
WATCH: (Aired April 1, 2015) John Daly reports on the VPD’s seizures as a result of Project Trooper
“These breaches, considered individually and cumulatively, are of such seriousness and impact that, having regard to all the circumstances, admitting that evidence in the trial proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute,” Williams wrote in the decision, which was delivered on Feb. 20.
Halstead and Heyman were among six people hit with multiple drug and weapons charges in the wake of “Project Trooper,” a seven-month Vancouver police probe into the sale and distribution of opioids across the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Alberta.
The probe saw the seizure of nearly 24,000 fentanyl pills, roughly 20 kilograms of cocaine, 12 kilograms of methamphetamine and $575,000 in cash. Multiple firearms and weapons were also seized, along with eight vehicles — four of which had hidden compartments — and $3.8 million in property across Metro Vancouver.
Halstead, who was the principal target, and Heyman were later charged in 2016, and were set to go to trial this past February.
But the case fell apart after their lawyers argued their clients’ rights were breached because a significant amount of the information used to obtain search warrants on several properties in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley was missing. Those searches were ruled to be warrantless searches.
WATCH: (Aired Feb. 18) Rumina Daya reports on how a police dog-related Charter violation doomed another fentanyl trafficking case in B.C.
Williams also found police violated privacy rights when they swabbed vehicles and homes and set up video surveillance of Halstead’s home without warrants, and improperly obtained the accused’s passport photos.
In his decision, Williams noted the charges levied against Halstead and Heyman were serious, and inflicted “horrific damage” on the community, but stood by his ruling.
“I do not make this decision without careful thought,” Williams said. “As a result of this court’s ruling, these criminal charges will not be adjudicated on their merits. That is regrettable; society deserves a better outcome.”
In addition to the breaches by police in regards to the property searches and seizures, Williams wrote officers also ignored Halstead and Heyman’s immediate requests to speak to legal counsel, and stalled in filing reports after the searches.
On Tuesday, the Prosecution Service of Canada said it is not appealing the decision. Vancouver police would not provide comment on the ruling.
Vancouver criminal lawyer Paul Doroshenko said the judge made the right decision in dropping the charges.
Two of the other people charged as part of Project Trooper, Charleen Teresa Flintroy and Cameron Mak, have both pleaded guilty to two counts each of possession for the purposes of trafficking.
They are both awaiting sentencing.
—With files from Rumina Daya