By Jonny Wakefield
The lawyer for a man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a young girl has filed a formal complaint over an Edmonton Police Service news release that he says sparked vigilantism and violent threats.
Mark Jordan, the lawyer for Wade Stene, says demonstrators have been camped outside his client’s mother’s home for more than a week after police issued a news release saying Stene posed a safety risk to children while out on bail.
“We (usually) get these releases for offenders — i.e., people who are convicted,” Jordan said Thursday. “Mr. Stene is accused. He’s not someone whose allegations have been proven in court. So it’s a much different situation, which makes this sounnecessary.”
Stene, 37, was granted bail June 12 ahead of his trial on charges of kidnapping and sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl.
On June 17, one day after his release, Edmonton police issued a news release alleging Stene posed a “significant risk of harm to the community,” particularly children. The release included three photos of Stene as well as the neighbourhood in which Stene is residing with his mother.
The home is located several hundred metres from where the young girl lives.
Since the release, a number of people have gathered outside Stene’s mother’s home. Around 10 demonstrators were present Thursday afternoon. The property line had been taped off with caution tape and handmade warning signs. A vehicle across the street was covered in printouts of Stene’s mugshot. A portable toilet and what appeared to be a grill had been set up near the property. Two police cruisers kept watch down the block.
Earlier demonstrations have featured a coffin, members of outlaw motorcycle gangs and threatening messages chalked onto the sidewalk.
In a letter to police Thursday, Jordan outlined a number of incidents Stene’s mother alleges have occurred on the property since June 17, including threats and attempted break-ins. She claims a noose and a pair of handcuffs were left on her walkway Wednesday.
The mother, who is Cree, also claims she has been subjected to racist abuse and threats.
“This type of vigilante justice would surely not have occurred but for the EPS ‘public warning,’” Jordan wrote to Chief Dale McFee.
At least one video on social media shows police officers delivering bottled water to the demonstrators and exchanging fist bumps.
In a statement, EPS spokeswoman Cheryl Sheppard said the service is aware of both Jordan’s complaint and the video.
“I can’t comment on the specific actions of the (police) members involved, but I can tell you we are not looking to prolong or support the protest — our focus is ensuring the safety of everyone,” she said.
Jordan is asking for the decision to release the warning be formally investigated under the Police Act. He also wants police to investigate the alleged threats and break-ins at the property, and to disperse the gathering “as an unlawful assembly or riot.”
He doesn’t understand why police issued the release in the first place, adding the service rarely issues public warnings in the cases of accused persons.
“Is it that they disagree with the (court) decision, so they made the release in order to garner the public’s attention and reaction, to support its position that Mr. Stene shouldn’t be released?” he asked. “I’m not sure, and hopefully, if an investigation does occur, we can get to the bottom of it.”
Stene is accused of pulling an eight-year-old girl he did not know into a vehicle as she walked home in the McQueen neighbourhood in March. Police allege he sexually assaulted the girl before dropping her off nearby.
His court-ordered release conditions mandate he stay at his mother’s home 24/7, wear an ankle bracelet, refrain from using drugs and alcohol and stay away from anyone under the age of 18. His next court appearance is set for July 2.
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