Two extremely powerful and moving RCMP Victim Impact Statements revealed what police deal with all too often as they combat dangerous street gang activity.
And the threat those gang members pose to police and society was reflected in Justice Brenda R. Hildebrandt’s sentence of five years and 10 months in prison for Cody Aaron Lee Dillon, 25, from Onion Lake Cree Nation.
North Battleford Crown Prosecutor Jennifer Schmidt welcomed the stiff sentence.
“The Court imposed a significant sentence today and the decision highlights the struggle that Loon Lake had with respect to gang activity,” said Schmidt after the sentence hearing in Battleford Court of Queen’s Bench on March 12.
“The decision highlights the serious risk Mr. Dillon’s actions posed for the communities in and around Loon Lake, but also for the RCMP officers whose job it was to stop him,” added Schmidt.
“The Court highlighted the professionalism the officers showed here. As I said in my submissions to the Court, the bravery that these officers demonstrated is what we mean when we try to teach our children about what it means to be brave. It was appropriate that the officers’ actions, and the impact that this offence had on them, was recognized by the Court.”
Victim Impact Statements by S/Sgt. Ryan How and officer Robert McCready were read to the court on March 8, 2021, after Dillon pleaded guilty to four charges, including driving a vehicle while being pursued by police and failing to stop, operating a vehicle in a manner dangerous to the public, being the occupant of a vehicle knowing there were firearms, and driving while prohibited.
The 2019 incidents
In January 2019, Dillon, along with Tonia Cantel, Tonio Cantel, and Juanita Wahpistikwan, were charged with assaulting a police officer with a weapon, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, possession of property obtained by crime and fleeing police.
The four were arrested after a dangerous police pursuit. RCMP were initially dispatched to a home on Mukwa Lake First Nation when a man suffered a head injury. Half an hour later police responded to multiple complaints of gunshots on the First Nation. Police said the two incidents were related and the result of gang activity.
Two suspect vehicles were identified and spotted in Loon Lake. Police set up roadblocks and a spike belt damaged one vehicle, which resulted in the occupants piling into the second vehicle, a gold truck, before fleeing.
During the police pursuit Dillon drove the truck up to 150 km/hr on gravel roads. The occupants - all dressed in red, the signature colour of Westside Outlaws - tossed firearms and a machete out the window, which were recovered.
Victim Impact Statements
“When I encountered the gold truck you were in north of Loon Lake the only emotion I felt was sadness,” said S/Sgt. Ryan How in his Victim Impact Statement.
“I knew right away how this was going to end. It’s always the same, just a varying degree of tragedy. When I saw your co-accused run from the Equinox and point what may have been a gun at me, I just felt tired and defeated.”
But it wasn’t just their own lives police were concerned with - Dillon put innocent school children’s lives at risk.
“Those children had no idea how much danger they were in because of your actions,” said S/Sgt. How. “Yet you continued on.”
S/Sgt. How said he has been involved in these situations so often he knew what would happen.
“I knew what you would do when you came up to the road block. And you did the same thing every other desperate criminal does - you accelerated and swerved towards the police.
“As you did that, I took off my seatbelt and accelerated my truck directly at you. I wanted to be able to at least have the chance to manoeuver in the cab if you and your fellow gang members started shooting at me. As I lined up my truck to yours head-on I fully expected to be shot but I tried to make sure my truck would stay on a straight path and hit you even if I couldn’t steer because you needed to be stopped.”
S/Sgt. How said the impact of the crash was significant, and hurt, a lot.
“Your stolen truck had a large push bumper on it that barely sustained any damage. My truck was destroyed. My knees struck the dash and I ricocheted off the steering wheel before bailing out of the truck onto the road; again I thought bullets would be coming through my windows.”
Police drew their weapons and aimed at Dillon.
“Even after all of this, after hours of chasing after you, hours of being frustrated, angry, and tired, (I) was required to be of calm mind and use sound tactics as I drew my gun on you and the people with you.
“At that moment I was furious that it had come to this. I was furious that your stupidity was causing me to miss an important family event going on right at that moment I had you in my gun sights. I was furious that I might have to shoot and kill you.”
Police officers could have pulled the trigger, but didn’t.
“I didn’t shoot you, Mr. Dillon,” said S/Sgt. How. “My coworkers didn’t shoot you, even though we were taunted and dared to do it by the people in the truck with you. Even though your actions caused one of my coworkers to almost be run over and killed. We made sure you were safe.
“It was a joke and a game to you. It was life and death for me, for my partners, and the public. I’m telling you that on January 17, 2019, you were lucky to be arrested by some of the most capable and experienced police officers in the country. They showed incredible restraint and professionalism to make sure you lived to be here today.”
RCMP Officer Robert McCready also had his gun sights on Dillon that day. Six hours before his shift he got a call and right away he knew something serious was happening.
“Something must have become pretty serious or gone sideways, that’s why I’m getting called about six hours before my shift starts,” he said in his Victim Impact Statement.
“I had been in Loon Lake for a while at that time, and had a feeling that it was probably related to gang activity, firearms or both. I got geared up and found that gang members/affiliates have possible firearms and are driving in two vehicles and are evading police. My thoughts are ‘great, here we go again.’ This was a constant way of life around that area, something would pop off, at least once to twice a week or more.”
McCready said they found and lost the vehicles and suspects multiple times, with many officers looking for them.
“This went on all afternoon, which took a bad turn when the vehicle started going through a populated area, just as school was letting off, and for fear of worsening conditions, police had to back off again.”
McCready said he had seconds to decide whether or not to shoot.
“Here’s the thing, I had less than 10 seconds to make a decision, what was I going to do? I have literally seconds to make a decision that will impact so many lives; I have to make the right one.
“As the truck got closer, I aimed at the driver’s position in the vehicle, not knowing at that time, that it was Mr. Dillon in the driver’s seat.”
As Dillon drove the truck at a high rate of speed straight towards officers, McCready said he saw Dillon’s face and watched as Dillon threw up his arms and covered his face.
“At that point I knew, that Mr. Dillon wasn’t going to hit the brakes. His hands were off the steering wheel, his eyes no longer on what was in front of him. In my mind, I figured he was thinking he was about to be shot. My red dot sight was now on Mr. Dillon, it was time to make a decision, and the truck was just yards from my position.
“At the last second, I removed my aim and jumped to the side to avoid being hit by the truck, which just narrowly missed me. The truck hit the (spike) belt, then the truck hit the ditch, but then back onto the road and kept going.
“Immediately I got back into a police truck and continued following the truck. The truck then hit more spike belts and kept going at which time S/Sgt How finished the event by going head on with the vehicle, sending Mr. Dillon and the truck into a snow covered field.”
Westside Outlaws gang member
Justice Hildebrandt, when sentencing Dillon, noted the Gladue factors present but also considered his lengthy criminal record and gang involvement saying denunciation, deterrence and protection of the public were paramount.
She said Dillon has 40 previous convictions and was given numerous opportunities in the past.
She noted that one of the firearms had the words “Westside Outlaws” on the back and numbers “23:19” etched into it, which symbolizes “WS.”
Justice Hildebrandt said Dillon was transporting the weapons for the street gang.
Dillon sat in the prisoner’s box, shackles around his ankles, and occasionally turned around to look at, smile and wave at his two family members in the court gallery.
While Justice Hildebrandt outlined Dillon’s difficult life he wiped his eyes and sniffled. And when she talked about the range of possible sentences and said she was going with the higher end of the sentencing range, he sniffled louder and dropped his head.
After sentencing, Dillon became angry and asked to address the court, at which time he attempted to argue with Justice Hildebrandt over the stiff sentence.
Justice Hildebrandt reprimanded him saying, “Mr. Dillon stop. I’m not here to answer your questions. I’m not here to give you legal advice.
“I do wish you all the best,” she added. “I hope you address the underlying issues.”
Defence disappointed with sentence
Defence had sought a global sentence of 36 to 42 months and Saskatoon lawyer Mike Buchinski said he was disappointed more consideration wasn’t given for Dillon having to serve time in isolation during the pandemic. At one point Dillon was moved from the Prince Albert Correctional Centre to the Saskatoon Correctional Centre and placed into quarantine.
“The issues specifically that we were focusing on was how the courts should treat the changes in the correctional centres as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and how much more difficult it is for inmates to serve that time and we were looking for some kind of mitigation on sentencing for that,” said Buchinski after the sentencing hearing.
Dillon acknowledges police didn’t shoot him
Justice Hildebrandt said Dillon learned the impact of his actions from the Victim Impact Statements and later thanked the police for “not pulling the trigger.”
She said Dillon put the police officers at great risk and forced them to consider whether or not to make a lethal and justifiable shot.
Lisa Joy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter / Battlefords News-Optimist
Lisa Joy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Battlefords Regional News-Optimist