CBC show questions RCMP's lengthy Mayerthorpe probe

A CBC documentary raises questions about whether the investigation into the Mayerthorpe police killings, including the arrests of two Alberta men, is aimed at distracting attention away from allegations of negligence within the force.

A CBC documentary raises questions about whether the investigation into the Mayerthorpe police killings, including the arrests of two Alberta men, is aimed at distracting attention away from allegations of negligence within the force.

Bad Day at Barrhead, a documentary by The Fifth Estate, examines the years following the March 3, 2005, shooting deaths of RCMP officers Const. Anthony Gordon, Const. Lionide (Leo) Johnston, Const. Brock Myrol and Const. Peter Schiemann at a rural farm in Mayerthorpe, Alta.

Const. Anthony Gordon, top left, Const. Lionide (Leo) Johnston, top right, Const. Brock Myrol, bottom left, and Const. Peter Schiemann were killed at Mayerthorpe, Alta., in 2005. ((RCMP))

Shooter James Roszko died at the scene and, last July, police announced they had arrested two men from a neighbouring town in connection with the killings.

Dennis Cheeseman, 23, and Shawn Hennessey, 28, each face four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of constables Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon and Leo Johnston.

While a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for May, there has been no public disclosure of Crown evidence in the case against Cheeseman and Hennessey, who have spent the past eight months in jail. Earlier bail hearings for the men have been cancelled.

Both men, who are from the neighbouring town of Barrhead, were the subject of a two-year RCMP undercover investigation aimed at proving their alleged role in the deadly shootings.

They are accused of aiding and abetting Roszko, even though police said neither suspect pulled the trigger or was at the scene of the crime.

Retired RCMP officer Mike Statnyk says he knew and was afraid of Roszko. Statnyk, who doesn't know Cheeseman and Hennessey, wonders if Roszko forced the two men to help him.

"We've got a guy that's … taken kids off the street at gunpoint.  He's … sexually assaulted them and photographed them while he's doing it. He's … intimidated witnesses by pointing handguns through the window at their mothers," he said.

Before death, Roszko was charged with 36 crimes and convicted of 12 of them, including sexual assault of a young male.

Roszko not a threat: RCMP report 

People who know the pair are stunned by their arrests, said The Fifth Estate's Linden MacIntyre. Dozens of people have written character references for the two, including two former RCMP officers.

These arrests have focused attention on the lead-up to the shooting, instead of the actual shootings, said MacIntyre.

"It has distracted attention away from command decisions that were made by RCMP commanders. It has distracted attention away from how well-trained and armed these guys were to respond to a threat like … Roszko was."

The Mayerthorpe shootings raised questions about how the force handles potentially dangerous situations in rural areas across the country.

An RCMP internal review uncovered by The Fifth Estate concludes Roszko, a recluse with a history of run-ins with police and a collection of weapons, was not considered "a deadly threat to officers."

A federal Human Resources report, which is mandatory every time someone dies on the job, contains word-for-word excerpts of the RCMP report.

Any public or RCMP inquiry into the Mayerthorpe shootings won't begin until any related criminal cases have wrapped up.

RCMP official defends probe

With four other RCMP officers killed in similar circumstances in rural Canada since Mayerthorpe, many officers are eager to find out what went wrong at Roszko's farm.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Gaetan Delisle says he's disappointed with the federal labour report.

"When you look at the report, it's a carbon copy of the report from the RCMP. How biased can that be?" says Delisle, who is stationed in Montreal.

RCMP Const. Rob Creasser says he's concerned RCMP leadership is avoiding public accountability for fear of being sued.

"Blame it all on the dead bad guy and that's, I think, that's what they've done," said Creasser, a member of the B.C. Mounted Police Professional Association.

"You don't want to come out and maybe say some things that would leave you open to, to be held accountable by a court."

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeney defended the force's lengthy investigation.

"I think it would be reprehensible for any person to prolong an investigation," said Sweeney.

The documentary will air on The Fifth Estate at 9 p.m. (9:30 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador) Wednesday on CBC Television.