Jury considers Curt Dagenais court case

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, the jury is deliberating in the case of Curt Dagenais, charged in the July 2006 shooting deaths of two Saskatchewan RCMP officers. Justice Gerald Allbright, in his instructions to the sequestered jury, has advised the jurors that they may consider the charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter or discharging a firearm with intent to wound or endanger life, but not the charge of first-degree murder the Crown has sought.

Dagenais has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of self defense. He is charged with two counts first degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the Spiritwood Incident.

Constable Michelle Knopp survived the shoot-out which erupted after a high speed chase ended about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Spiritwood, Saskatchewan near Mildred. Constables Marc Bourdages and Robin Cameron died about one week following the shoot out which occurred July 7, 2006.

Defense lawyer Bill Roe argued self defense for Dagenais, saying he shot "in a blind panic" when RCMP officers fired upon him.

Crown prosecutor Al Johnston asserted that Dagenais shot first. Johnston asserted that Dagenais cannot be believed, that his story is presented so he can get away with murder.

The incident began with a dispute within the Dagenais family. The defendant supported his father Arthur Dagenais, and his sister supported the mother Elise Dagenais, during a divorce; his mother was to receive half the family farm from the divorce which she had previously allocated to Dagenais. Dagenais tried to speak to his mother, but the sister intervened.

Dagenais reported going to the local RCMP detachment and spoke with Constable Cameron. Constable Knopp informed Dagenais that the RCMP could not be involved in a family affair.

After Dagenais' sister and mother went to the police, the three constables went to charge Dagenais with assault.

This is where the stories from the RCMP and Dagenais diverge. Dagenais claims that Cameron made the intial approach to arrest him and smashed his truck window, at which point Dagenais became scared and sped away from the situation. The RCMP state that Dagenais started to drive away from the situation which meant that Cameron was hit by the truck's rear view mirror. Cameron retaliated by breaking the window. Officers Cameron and Bourdages followed the departing Dagenais in a police truck; Knopp followed in a SUV.

During the chase police sideswiped Dagenais' truck. The RCMP say that Dagenais was unpredictable and that he had rammed their vehicle. The RCMP tried prevent Dagenais from reaching his father's farm house fearing that there were firearms there.

The first shot was at the moving police vehicle before the crash from a stationary Dagenais vehicle...Curt Dagenais had the motive to shoot at the police vehicle and he had the opportunity to do it

—Al Johnston, Crown prosecutor

There is a difference in accounts of the chase and gun battle. Dagenais claims the RCMP fired upon him first, and he fired back in self defence fearing for his life.

The chase ended after RCMP rammed into the side of Dagenais' stopped truck. Because Dagenais was already stopped, according to collision reconstruction expert, there was time for Dagenais to shoot at the RCMP truck. A firearm expert studying trajectories of the bullets found that one of the rounds fired from Daganais' .30-30 Winchester entered the police vehicle at a different angle than other shots fired at the truck after the collision.

Dagenais has also reported holes in his truck door.

Dagenais claims when he heard the second vehicle drive up, there was more gun fire so he returned shots himself.

Knopp testifed that she arrived at the scene in the second vehicle her ear was struck by a fragment from bullet fire. She said when she arrived Daganais fired first and that Bourdages and Cameron were already badly wounded.

Firearms experts established that Dagenais fired eight times, and the RCMP six times during the gunfight.

During the trial evidence was presented that Dagenais had previously been assaulted by police. The RCMP had identified Daganais as a police hater. There had been previous altercations between the RCMP, Daganais and his father. Dagenais had filed prior lawsuits against the RCMP.

Following the incident, Dagenias fled the scene hiding in the woods of the countryside. 200 RCMP engaged in a massive manhunt. Dagenais turned himself in July 18, 2006.

The audio from the RCMP radio was submitted as evidence, and the dispatcher had opened all the channels associated with the Shellbrook area. There is no reporting of gunfire recorded on the audio.

There was no videotape in the onboard video camera installed in Knopp's SUV when evidence was gathered two days following the shooting. A photograph of three VHS tapes in Knopp's vehicle has been presented. Constable Kenneth Palen after viewing a tape, testified he was instructed not to keep the videotape found on the passenger seat of the SUV and it was destroyed in the garbage.