Calgary police homicide investigators probe 5 unrelated deaths in 1 week

Timeline of violent crimes in Calgary over past 2 weeks
WATCH: Calgary police are grappling with a series of violent, deadly crimes that have left six people dead in the span of two weeks. Blake Lough reports.

Calgary police have released new information about a fifth targeted death that homicide investigators are pleading with the public for help solving, saying it’s “critical that anyone with information about these incidents come forward to police.”

“Multiple resources, including specialized teams of investigators, are currently assisting in the investigations and suppression efforts to address the ongoing violence,” police said. “The gun violence is of serious concern to police as it jeopardizes the safety of the public.”

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In addition to three overnight deaths, including a stabbing, shooting and burning body, overnight Saturday and into Sunday, as well as a fatal shooting that happened on Dec. 30, police are also looking for information on a deadly assault that happened near the Alpha House on New Year’s Day.

READ MORE: Calgary police resources stretched thin after 3 deaths overnight

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The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner contacted the Calgary Police Service on Jan. 2 after what was described as a routine autopsy on a man who died on Jan. 1 revealed his death was a homicide.

“The autopsy revealed the man died as a result of injuries sustained during an assault,” police said.

Calgary police worried innocent bystander could get hurt if gun violence continues
Calgary police worried innocent bystander could get hurt if gun violence continues

As investigators dug deeper, they found out staff at the Alpha House called police after the man had been in a fight at about 6:50 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Police said the victim told staff to cancel the call shortly after, which they did believing him to be okay.

Staff found the man in medical distress at 6:30 a.m. the next day and called EMS. The man later died of his injuries in hospital, marking the city’s first homicide of the year.

Calgary police investigating 3 deaths in separate incidents overnight
Calgary police investigating 3 deaths in separate incidents overnight

Investigators have identified a person of interest in the case, police said.

In an emailed statement, Alpha House executive director Kathy Christiansen said staff are “deeply saddened” by the “tragic” death that happened outside the facility.

She said after the victim asked to have the police call cancelled, staff still had EMS come to clear the man to stay at the shelter overnight, according to Alpha House protocol, and he was cleared.

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“We are assisting police with the ongoing investigation,” Christiansen said.

“It is a sad and difficult time for our community.”

Deadly weekend

Over the weekend, police resources were strained as officers were called to a shooting in the northeast community of Saddle Ridge that left one person dead and sent another to hospital in life-threatening condition; a stabbing in the downtown core; and a burning body found in Fish Creek Park.

Calgary police responded to three deaths in the city from Saturday, Jan. 4 at 7:30 p.m. to Sunday, Jan. 5 at 7:30 a.m.
Calgary police responded to three deaths in the city from Saturday, Jan. 4 at 7:30 p.m. to Sunday, Jan. 5 at 7:30 a.m. Global News

Police said the death of the man found burning in the park remains “undetermined,” and investigators are waiting on an autopsy scheduled for Wednesday to determine the cause and manner of death as well as the person’s identity.

It’s believed the victim is a Caucasian man who was over 6′ tall in height, but officers have no preliminary identity of the person.

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“Police are encouraging anyone who may be missing a loved one to file a missing person’s report if they have not yet done so,” police said.

Investigators are turning to CCTV video to try to determine how many offenders were involved in the downtown stabbing, which police said happened near 11 Avenue and 1 Street S.E. at about 4:45 a.m.

Police are also asking anyone who was in the area who may have information about the stabbing to speak to them.

Calgary police looking for any information on fatal Saddle Ridge shooting
Calgary police looking for any information on fatal Saddle Ridge shooting

READ MORE: Auburn Bay home damaged by gunshots mistakenly targeted: police

No more information is expected to be released on the Saddle Ridge shooting victim until after an autopsy scheduled for Tuesday, however, police found two vehicles in the alley they believe are connected, and investigators are combing through CCTV video.

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“We believe there are other people involved that we have not spoken to,” Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta said on Monday afternoon.

“With the help of CCTV, we’re starting to put the pieces of that puzzle together and it certainly was targeted.”

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Calgary police are still looking for information on the driver of a white 2018 Ford Fusion who investigators believe has critical information about a shooting that left one man dead another with serious injuries on Dec. 30 in Rundle.

Additional resources on the case

As the police service grapples with a steady rise in violence, more resources are being deployed to both investigate the incidents and try to get ahead of any future crimes.

“In 2019 there have been more than 80 shootings in our city, a significant increase over the previous year, and although we are only six days into 2020, we already have two,” Calgary Police Chief Const. Mark Neufeld said.

“In our city though, we presently have hundreds of people who are involved in high-risk lifestyle. These individuals are not aligned to traditional organized crime or gangs in the conventional sense.

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“The groups themselves are fluid — they move between the different groups but they also move around geographically between cities, not only in the province, but also around the country. As a result, these investigations are extremely complex, and they’re resource-intensive.”

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Recent violence in Calgary impacting police resources
Recent violence in Calgary impacting police resources

Neufeld said the common denominator in all of these crimes appears to be drugs and the profits from drug trafficking.

“We’ve developed both short- and long-term strategies and have recently created an inspector position, it’s a senior officer position, and that person’s responsibility is to actually oversee the work of various different speciality units around the organization around this particular issue,” Neufeld said.

“I would say we’ve had a disappointing start to 2020 in Calgary in terms of violent crime. This is violence that will not be tolerated in our city.

“We — and by we, I mean everyone in the Calgary Police Service, but also everyone in our community — need to take it seriously and personally.”

Officers putting in ‘astounding’ number of hours

As police officers work round the clock to solve and try to prevent these crimes, the head of the Calgary Police Association said he is concerned for the wellbeing of the officers who still have to maintain the standard levels of policing.

“This is concerning for us,” CPA president John Orr said on Monday.

“The number of hours officers are putting in is astounding.”

Orr said holding scenes, transporting witnesses and tasks related to investigating the crimes are taxing for frontline officers.

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“I’m guessing there’s a whole lot of people who didn’t get a lot of sleep,” he said.

“The day-to-day operations don’t stop and the collision calls continue to keep coming in, but we have big demands on our members.”

Orr said the reality of cuts in recent years is really being felt by officers on the streets now.

“I saw where I came from — the homicide unit for nine years – [and] I saw there are cuts to overtime and staffing levels,” he said. “And when you’re dealing with these complicated issues, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to solve the case in 40 hours a week.

“And when financial constraints prohibit you from working more, it puts internal pressures on our members.”

One-on-one with Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld on recent violence
One-on-one with Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld on recent violence

Homicide deemed ‘non-culpable’

Following investigation and consultation with the Crown Prosecutor, police have declared the homicide of a man found dead on Dec. 27 “non-culpable,” meaning no charges will be laid.

Officers were called to a four-plex on 9 Avenue S.E. on the night of Dec. 27 after a tenant of an upstairs unit said they heard a disturbance downstairs.

READ MORE: Calgary Police Service Homicide Unit investigating death in southeast after ‘disturbance’

When police got there, they found a man dead and another man was arrested.

The man’s death was ruled a homicide, but it’s believed the death occurred “as a result of an accident or in self-defense.”

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“Although a person died at the hands of another, the likelihood of conviction does not stand the test of a criminal trial and therefore charges are not laid,” police said.

Calgary police chief calls start to 2020 ‘disappointing’
Calgary police chief calls start to 2020 ‘disappointing’

The two men were acquaintances, police said, and were at a gathering at the home when the victim assaulted the other man. They fought, and the victim was fatally injured.

“No further information will be released about this case,” police said.

— With files from Jill Croteau