The Merritt RCMP continue to investigate a series of shootings and police incidents that took place over the span of a week, beginning on November 15 and culminating with the early morning arrest of Merritt fugitive Ronald Karlson on November 23.
While progress has been made on the ensuing investigations, local police tell the Herald that investigations will likely take months to complete.
“There’s been lots of progress, but I think the biggest thing is to understand that these investigations take a lot of time,” said Acting Detachment Commander Sgt. Josh Roda.
“It could take months, probably, and thousands of man hours. We’re at a stage now where we’re still processing evidence, and that evidence processing takes a long time. We submit stuff to forensic labs, and later we get results, so it’s just going to be a long process now with these investigations.”
A number of shootings took place in the Nicola Valley in the early morning of November 15, with Merritt RCMP responding to numerous calls in the Merritt, Coldwater IR, and Mamette Lake Road areas. Over 100 shots were fired during the incidents, with no injuries reported.
The RCMP confirmed in a press release later in the week that officers attended a scene on the morning of Friday, November 18 for a possible shots-fired complaint in the 2100 block of Priest Avenue. This led to more complaints in the afternoon, and an hours-long standoff on Nicola Avenue, resulting in the arrest of three on charges of hostage taking with a firearm, and entering a dwelling house without lawful excuse.
On Sunday, November 20, Merritt RCMP and members of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) executed a search warrant in the 2600 block of Granite Avenue in relation to Friday’s kidnapping case. The following day, Merritt RCMP officers and emergency response teams closed down the 2100 block of Quilchena Avenue to execute a number of arrests. No new charges were announced. On November 23, at approximately 1:30 a.m, Merritt frontline officers responded to reports of a suspicious person around the areas of Priest Avenue and Voght Street. After the suspect fled police and barricaded himself in a home in the area for hours, police were able to draw the man, later identified as Ronald Karlson, out of the house and take him into custody.
“There’s very likely a connection between them, I won’t draw that with evidence at this point, but we’re definitely looking at that,” said Roda, speaking to the series of police incidents.
While RCMP are responsible for the investigation and evidence-gathering aspect of law enforcement, hot-button issues such as conditional releases and the laying of charges are out of police’s hands.
“Our job as the police is just to gather evidence, so we gather as much evidence as we can and we present that evidence to the Crown,” explained Roda.
“It’s Crown Counsel’s job after that to decide what charges they’re gonna lay, and whether they chose to try and hold somebody or release them on bail. The courts play a big role, and judges and the law as well, because the Crown and the courts are bound by the laws that come from our federal government.”
Roda added that local officers are also frustrated with the lack of prosecution of repeat and dangerous offenders, citing the legislation that binds Canada’s legal systems.
The federal government recently passed Bill C-5, eliminating specific mandatory minimum penalties and for greater use of conditional sentences, which can be similar to house arrest. The bill, sponsored by Attorney General David Lametti, became law on November 17, and is targeted at fighting systemic racism in the country’s criminal justice system.
“We want to see these people locked up, and they deserve to be,” said Roda.
“The punishment has to fit the crime, and currently in our justice system, that’s not the case. With the government taking minimum mandatory sentences, that’s really disheartening, especially for a community that just went through five shootings with all known offenders that we believe were involved, and these people just keep getting released.”
Roda told the Herald that members of the Merritt RCMP are burnt out, and grateful for the outside resources they were able to call upon for support during the ongoing police incidents in the community. He remains hopeful that the increased police action is now over.