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Sunday, 7 December 2008

Bloody rivalry in Halifax played out between drug gangs

Bloody rivalry in Halifax between drug gangs that has seen shots ring out in front of a children's hospital and another hospital's emergency department forced into lockdown twice in two weeks.The police department says it has devoted unprecedented resources into investigating the series of incidents, which also involves shots fired at a pizza parlour in nearby Spryfield."We have seen violence in the drug trade before," said Const. Jeff Carr. "The difference this time is that they've brought their dispute into very public places, which is alarming."Police haven't said how many officers they've dedicated to a team trying to clamp down on two groups that have been waging a turf war in the suburban community of Spryfield for more than three years.It has been reported by local media outlets that the feud involves two families and associates implicated in a number of firebombings and shootings that have plagued the community of about 11,000 people since 2006.
Halifax Regional Police Chief Frank Beazley held a news conference on Nov. 19 to discuss the trouble and his department's response to it. Without naming the groups or individuals involved, he said the release of one man - Jimmy Melvin Jr., 26, - triggered the recent spate of violence that started with multiple shots fired outside the pizza shop in Spryfield and then outside the IWK Health Centre.
"That gentleman certainly has an influence on a group of people that are actively involved in criminal activity in our city," he said in reference to Melvin after his release from prison.Melvin Jr. was released Nov. 14 after spending time in prison while awaiting charges on robbery, assault and weapons offences.He was freed after witnesses changed their stories about a home invasion in 2007. Outside court, the Crown said it had to withdraw the charges because there was no chance of a conviction.Days later, his father, who served more than 10 years in prison on drug trafficking and assault convictions, was the target of multiple gunshots that tore through the pizza outlet on a busy street in the area.No one was hurt, but police say the incident signalled a renewal of hostilities between the groups vying for territory in the drug trade.The following day, another man was injured when multiple shots were fired in front of the IWK Health Centre, stunning people who had never seen the violence seep into such public places."It gives it a visibility that is quite singular," said Donald Clairmont, director of the Atlantic Institute of Criminology at Dalhousie University in Halifax."And some of these people can't shoot straight, so when they try to shoot the other guy they often imperil peaceful citizens. That makes it a very serious problem."Melvin was shot Thursday outside an apartment building in the area, but was taken to hospital with what were said to be non life-threatening injuries.Police were reportedly doing surveillance on Melvin at the time, but didn't witness the shooting. They later arrested four people at two locations after setting up a roadblock.On Friday night, police said three of the four men they had taken into custody as persons of interest in their investigation had been released without charges being laid. The fourth man has had his parole revoked.Hospital officials confirmed that Melvin was being treated there and that they had restricted access to the emergency department to ensure patient and physician safety.Coun. Stephen Adams, who represents the area, said people in the community are feeling a greater sense of unease as they watch the violence play out on their streets.He remembers the string of firebombings in 2006 that were reportedly sparked by the shooting death of a 21-year-old who was an alleged member of one of the rival gangs."It is spilling into areas that were generally taboo," Adams said Friday, adding that there has been a heavy, noticeable police presence in the community since the shooting outside the children's hospital."People see it as an internal issue, but of course it's got to be in the back of their minds that this is happening."Carr said police are monitoring people thought to be affiliated with the groups and are investigating the most recent incident to try to bring them before the courts. But he concedes they've had trouble in the past coaxing people to come forward and talk.#At the news conference last month, Beazley assured residents that the department is concentrating efforts on the case involving "two groups of individuals involved in the local drug trade.""The fact that they have brought their conflict into very public places is of great concern to us," he said.Still, Clairmont described the groups as middle to low-level drug gangs that don't maintain the same discreet profile of larger, well-organized criminal outfits."None of these guys are terribly successful.


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