April 25, 2022

MCC Day 15 – Police Paraphernalia and Decommissioned Vehicles

Since I was in the city yesterday for the launch of Paul Palango’s book on the mass casualty, “22 Murders”, I decided to stay up and take in the MCC proceedings in-person again. This was my second time attending. Today’s proceedings were held at the Prince George Hotel, rather than the Nova Centre. It was a much more compact setting, which in part seemed to demonstrate that the Nova Centre may be unnecessarily large for what is required.

The proceedings today focused on the killer’s collection of police paraphernalia and decommissioned vehicles. He had police uniforms, four decommissioned RCMP cars, and radio equipment, some of which he purchased online, and some from the government surplus operation. Today we met a further lawyer for the MCC, Amanda Byrd, who made two brief presentations dealing with the laws and procedures on police clothing and equipment. Roger Burrill presented briefly on the actual replica police cruiser the killer used. There was also a witness, Max Liberatore, from GC Surplus, the organization that sells off surplus government equipment.

(Something I noted before, but have not written in these blogs, is that witnesses are not called to “the stand” as they are in court, but are rather invited to the “witness table”. Witnesses are sworn or affirmed, as they are in court. I think it is relevant to identify any distinctions between the MCC proceedings and a court process, and whether those difference have any effect. It may be that witnesses feel less gravity or solemnity being called to a table than to a stand. Another is, unlike with a Judge entering a courtroom, we do not “all rise” when the Commissioners enter, which is disconcerting for lawyers’ reflexes.)

Much of what was presented was information that was already known about the decommissioned cruiser and the RCMP uniforms possessed by the killer. There were some new details, and new photographs, several of which caught my eye.

First, it is notable that Wortman only started buying vehicles and equipment in early 2019. There have been theories identified that he was someone who was long obsessed or preoccupied with the RCMP. That may be the case, but whatever planning he may have made to be able to disguise himself as he did was a more recent phenomenon.

Something that emerged from Ms. Byrd’s presentations was that there seem to be many procedures and oversight structures around the purchase of police clothing and equipment, but less so for their disposal. The front end rules are in place to ensure officers are not over-ordering (and thus potentially selling some), and also protections in place to ensure the specs for certain items are not publicized (so as to be easily created by non-authorized manufacturers). On the other hand, when it comes to disposal, that is left entirely to each individual detachment to arrange and monitor, which would seem to be a weak point in the system, open to potential abuse.

In terms of equipment owned by the killer, three things stood out to me. First was a photo of handcuffs found at the crime scene in Shubenacadie (after the deaths of Cst. Stevenson and Joey Webber). They are real handcuffs. It is not clear how they may have ended up back in the car. Ms. Banfield claims to have removed them after escaping from the killer.

Next was a photo of the ‘silent patrolman’, which is the barrier in a police car between the front seat and the back to keep the arrestees from escaping. The killer bought this item on eBay. We had not been able to see any photos of this previously, as the photos of the replica car always had portions blocked out in order to cover up any images to Mr. Webber’s death. Here, it is shown in a photo taken well before the killing spree, and the patrolman is intact and appears to be identical to an actual police car version. Ms. Banfield claims to have escaped the killer by squeezing through the silent patrolman from the back seat of the replica cruiser and exiting through a front door.

Finally, there was the police radio. The killer bought a Motorola police radio and installed it in the replica car. The MCC says the killer could not have intercepted “encrypted” radio communications with this device, but say nothing about unencrypted messages, and we know that there was significant unencrypted activity throughout the active shooter situation.

The witness we heard testify was interesting mostly for his seeming desire to distance himself from any association with the killer, despite having several such associations. Mr. Liberatore works for the government surplus depot, and so dealt with Wortman many times as he came in to buy decommissioned cars and other equipment. As it turned out, Mr. Liberatore also had a tooth replaced by the killer (which he lied about in his first statement to the MCC), arranged for his father to get denture work done (for which his father was not asked to pay) but claimed never to have spoken to his father about it (which seems improbable), and also had a 30-minute Sunday phone call with Ms. Banfield’s phone number which he claims he could not recall at all either.

Certainly there will be some recommendations emerging from the MCC dealing with the sale and possession of police uniforms and surplus vehicles. Wortman had a story for anyone that asked about the vehicle purchases involving parades and honouring fallen officers, but of course he would. Another issue that was discussed today was that many people knew he had, or was trying to create, a replica vehicle, and did not contact the police to say anything. Mr. Liberatore may have been one of those people, though he may just be a nervous witness and interviewee.

It will be interesting to hear someone from the RCMP’s criminal intelligence unit talk about the extent to which, if at all, these police surplus or auction purchases are tracked and monitored. Hopefully, after this wake-up call, people will be more inclined to let officials know if they ever observe a replica police cruiser or uniform in the possession of an acquaintance. There is no excuse that should dissuade someone from doing so.

The MCC is back tomorrow afternoon for submissions from the lawyers for the parties as to any gaps in these latest presentations from the Commission.