SERIOUS CRIMES: Gangland homicides and witness safety

By Ashley Legassic
December 5, 2018 - 3:38pm

KAMLOOPS — Last week, CFJC Today sat down with Kamloops RCMP Plainclothes Commander Staff Sgt. Simon Pillay to discuss issues around the community, and how plainclothes units deal with them.
Plainclothes units include the Serious Crimes Unit, the Targeted Enforcement Unit, and the General Investigation Support Team. Pillay has a long history with RCMP forces across the country, and has been here in Kamloops for the past three years. His role is to oversee all operations of these units, and move resources back and forth to deal with various files that come and go. This is the final of a three-part webseries focusing on organized and drug-related crime in Kamloops, and its impact on the community. Part One can be found here, and Part Two is here.

Since last fall, two high-profile homicides involving known criminals have shook the Kamloops community — and the local drug trade.

The first being the shooting death of Red Scorpions co-founder Konaam Shirzad, and the latest being the homicide of Troy Gold earlier this year. The 35-year-old Gold was last seen on Oct. 1, and just a few days later Kamloops RCMP announced they believed foul play was a factor in his disappearance.

Police began investigating a home in Brocklehurst and in the Lac Du Bois Grasslands, where human remains were found last month. Kamloops RCMP have yet to confirm who the remains belonged to, but spokesperson Cpl. Jodi Shelkie said at the time that there were no other ongoing investigations into any other missing or murdered person in the area.

Gold had a lengthy history of offences across the province, including a manslaughter conviction in 2004, when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing Martin Cotey. Gold stabbed Cotey to death on a Penticton beach in 2001.

His most recent conviction was for theft under $5,000 in Kamloops, when he was sentenced to a four-month conditional sentence order and eight-month probation order this past July. But Gold had been convicted of more serious offences, including assault and robbery in areas including Kelowna and different cities on Vancouver Island, according to court records.

Shortly after Gold's disappearance was deemed a murder investigation, police said they believed his death to be tied to the drug trade.

"That's an investigation that's ongoing, it's progressing, so there's very little I can say, but what I can say is (it's) obviously a very tragic situation and very much tied to criminality and drug trafficking in this community," Staff Sgt. Simon Pillay, plainclothes commander for the Kamloops RCMP, says. "Those investigations — they're just as challenging as an organized crime investigation with the added intensity that it's also actually a murder investigation. I can say it's progressing and we always are worried about retaliation or further violence."

No arrests have been made in connection to Gold's death, but police have said they identified suspects they believed to be involved — all of whom are known to police.

"In these drug communities an act of violence often illicits a retaliation and again, this is usually focused criminal-on-criminal, but even if somebody is a participant in the drug trade, they are not allowed to be a victim of violence," Pillay says. "We don't judge people on that type of conduct when they are a victim of violent crime. We try to solve every single one, and that homicide is obviously no different. We treat it as a major priority."

In Konaam Shirzad's case, no arrests have been made in connection to his September 2017 death, when he was gunned down outside of his West End home. He's appeared in courthouses across the province for charges including firearms offences and assault with a weapon.

According to Vancouver Sun crime reporter, Kim Bolan's Real Scoop blog, Michael Le was another founder of the Red Scorpions. The "Surrey Six" case focused on the murders of six people in October of 2007, and co-founder of the Red Scorpions, Le, testified during trial that he and Shirzad had formed the gang after meeting in a youth detention centre.

The Sun also reported that Shirzad was sentenced to 30 months in jail for mischief that endangered life in 2005, after pleading guilty to arranging a shooting at a house he mistakenly linked to someone who had testified against him in the past. 

Shortly after Shirzad's death, an associate who was with him that night — and had known gang ties — was killed in Richmond. Ibrahim Amjad Ibrahim was found shot to death at a Richmond park less than one month after Shirzad was killed.

Ibrahim wasn't injured when Shirzad was shot, and police tried speaking to him after the homicide. He was not cooperative.

Police have not linked Ibrahim's death to Shirzad's, and RCMP also say there is no reason to believe that there is any connection between Gold's homicide and Shirzad's homicide.

All of these cases remain unsolved, and Pillay says fear of coming forward in organized crime investigations plays a big part.

"Witness safety is a priority on every case, and there's many steps that we can take, the court can take, to provide that level of safety," Pillay says. "It can be anything from the accused being released on a no-contact condition which is very effective — I know often times it's characterized as not, but very much it is — right up into way more intrusive and specialized witness protection strategies. So it really is case-specific."

Often times known criminals or associates to criminals will refuse to cooperate with investigators, in fear of retaliation or putting a hypothetical target on themselves. 

"If somebody comes forward to cooperate on an investigation whether it be confidentially or on the record, we take their safety as a priority and we don't allow them to be put into an unnecessarily dangerous position," Pillay says. "What I always tell every witness is, if they raise those concerns to me, we drill down right then and there and do kind of a risk assessment and make a plan that everyone is going to be comfortable with. But... that is an issue in the police universe that has always been there and there's very robust systems to keep people safe from the most minor intervention to extreme interventions. So it's a priority to us and we can work with anybody to keep them safe."

One thing Pillay wants to remind the public of is that police officers' families also live here, and they care about this city being safe. He urges the public to be vigilant when it comes to criminal activity.

"The way we look at keeping Kamloops safe is that we're all in this together. The investigators that live here, they have their families here, this is our town as well, and we want it to be as safe as possible," Pillay says. "I don't want the public to think, 'Well, the police will take care of it all.' If you are aware of criminal activity, I strongly urge you to report it.

"I always suggest people be vigilant. If they see something suspicious, report it. There's many cases where drug groups will rent a house in a nice normal neighbourhood and use it as a stash house, for example. Those are essentially ticking time bombs. If you see something suspicious in your neighbourhood — it could be unusual renters, unusual patterns — it never hurts to report it to the police because we will conduct an impartial investigation and if it's nothing, great. At least we know. But oftentimes it's tips from the public that give us the jump on a new stash house, a new crime group coming to the community, or a criminal act that has happened but hasn't been reported to the police yet."

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