'It was chaos': Witness testifies at trial related to 2019 shooting outside downtown Whitehorse bar

·4 min read
Police tape at the scene of a shooting in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 1, 2019. The trial related to the shooting started this week in Yukon Supreme Court. It's expected to last about three weeks. (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)
Police tape at the scene of a shooting in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 1, 2019. The trial related to the shooting started this week in Yukon Supreme Court. It's expected to last about three weeks. (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)

The trial of a man charged in relation to the 2019 shooting outside a downtown bar on Jarvis Street in Whitehorse began earlier this week in Yukon Supreme Court.

John Thomas Papequash was gravely injured after he was shot in the early morning hours of Dec. 1.

Malakl Kwony Tuel faces 13 charges, including attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent to wound, aggravated assault and possessing a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm.

At the same time, a second man who was at the bar that night is also being tried. Joseph Wuor doesn't face charges in connection to the shooting, but does face five counts, including cocaine possession for the purposes of trafficking, and possessing a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm.

'I just froze'

On Monday, Destyn Aird testified she was at the bar on the evening of Nov. 30, 2019 with a group of friends, including Papequash.

Aird told the court there was bedlam when the shooting happened.

"I just froze," she said. "I saw his body and was told to get back inside.

"It was chaos. Everyone was running in opposite directions."

Bar manager John Singh was working that night. He said he saw Papequash lying on the ground outside after hearing gunshots.

"He looked like he was dead to me," Singh testified. "I saw the bullet hole above his temple."

Video footage features prominently

Hours of surveillance video captured inside and outside the bar are being shown at the trial, which began Monday. The footage provides insight into what took place before the shooting occurred.

Multiple witnesses said the mood of the evening was pleasant — "happy," even. They say Tuel and Wuor appeared to be having a nice time, buying people drinks and dancing.

But witnesses also said the night eventually took a sharp turn for the worse.

Video footage appears to show an altercation between both accused men and Papequash in the part of the bar where there are pool tables. Papequash appears to push Tuel. Shortly thereafter, Papequash seems to push Wuor.

Under cross examination by Dale Fedorchuk, the defence lawyer for Tuel, witnesses told the court it appeared Papequash was behaving in an aggressive manner toward Tuel and Wuor throughout the night.

Aird said that, based on surveillance video, it appears Papequash was the initial aggressor.

Singh also spoke to Papequash's demeanor that night, saying he believed Papequash was someone known for not "backing down from a fight."

Singh said he told police that he was concerned what happened was a "racist push and shove."

Both accused are Black men.

Lahcen Amzoug was working a cab the night of the shooting. Dashcam footage shows he arrived outside The Local mere minutes before the shooting took place.

Although he said he didn't witness the shooting, he said he saw Papequash violently open the bar's front door, then proceed to walk up to Tuel, who was standing outside. Amzoug said Papequash "seemed agitated" by the way he was gesturing with his hands and moving side to side.

Dashcam footage submitted in court does not show the exchange between the pair, nor does it show the shooting itself. However, gun shots are audible, along with screaming and yelling. The audio also captures Amzoug's reaction to the event.

"Holy f--k," he is overheard saying to a fellow cab driver he was on the phone with. "Somebody got shot, stay away."

'Gun signs'

The trial has spent a considerable amount of time on apparent "gun signs" made by Tuel inside the bar before the shooting occurred.

After the altercation between Papequash and the accused, video footage appears to show Tuel dancing and making hand gestures that seem to resemble a gun.

Aird said she witnessed the hand gestures. Singh said he did, too.

But, under cross examination, Aird and Singh said they never saw either of the accused with firearms on them, nor did they see the shooting itself.

Singh said he saw Tuel fishing around his pockets throughout the night.

"There could be innocent reasons he had his hands in his pockets," said Fedorchuk, adding some people may habitually fidget with their keys.

The trial will continue to hear from more witnesses in the coming days.

Presided over by Chief Justice Suzanne Duncan, the trial is expected to last about three weeks.

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