Fear of gangs, mistrust of Mounties hampering probe into death of decapitated B.C. man

Fribjon Bjornson. Radio Canada photoA combination of fear of gang violence and mistrust of the RCMP appears to be hampering the investigation into a grisly murder in northern British Columbia.

CBC News reports some residents of the Nak'azdli reserve near Fort St. James are withholding information about the torture and decapitation of 28-year-old Fribjon Bjornson, whose head was found in a vacant house on the reserve Feb. 3.

The rest of his body has not been found and no one has been charged, CBC News says.

But Nak'azdli Chief Fred Sam says a lot of people know something about Bjornson's killing but won't come forward.

"I guess probably maybe 20 or less, maybe, I'm thinking," Sam told CBC News. "It is quite a bit of people."

Bjornson was last seen alive at a convenience store in the town of Vanderhoof, about 60 kilometres away, three weeks before his head was found. He was reported missing Jan. 21, and his pickup truck was found in Fort St. James two days later, Global TV reported.

RCMP said that at the time Bjornson "fought a life of drug use and therefore associated with individuals who lived a high risk lifestyle and were also caught in a world of addiction."

Fred and Eileen Bjornson, the dead man's parents, say witnesses have told them the names of the killers, who they say are members of a local drug gang who had tortured their son to extract money, CBC News reported. They say they've also been told Fribjon may have given a ride to the wrong person.

The Bjornsons believe witnesses are staying mum out of fear of retaliation if they talk.

"There's a fear factor," said Fred Bjornson. "Maybe they just don't want to be the one that comes forward because they'll be labelled in their community."

But Sam said it's more than that. Reserve residents are frustrated by the way the local RCMP detachment has treated them in the investigation.

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"Some of them that came forward said that they were very rude to them or accusing them of withholding information or being part of it, so some of them zipped their lip as soon as they were treated that way," Sam told CBC News.

Charlene Joseph admitted she has information that links at least one man to the killing but won't talk to the local Mounties because of the way they treat the community.

"I feel sorry for the family and all, but the cops down here are way too mean and rude," she told CBC News. "I don't think anybody would come forward because they don't treat them with respect."

Joseph said she'd be willing to talk to outside investigators.

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Trust of the RCMP among B.C. First Nations has been thin for a very long time. The Mounties have been accused of mistreating aboriginals who come into their hands, most recently in a B.C. Civil Liberties Association complaint about three people seriously injured in encounters with officers.

And last year, the association released a report on policing in several rural and northern B.C. communities that chronicled widespread complaints about RCMP behaviour, ranging from a lack of communication to physical abuse.

The Mounties have also been subject to accusations that they didn't investigate crimes against First Nations people as zealously as those involving non-native victims, including serial killer Robert Pickton's many aboriginal women victims and, until fairly recently, the murder and disappearances of aboriginal women along the so-called Highway of Tears in northern B.C.