Abandoned by Saskatoon cops in -22°C weather, Darrell Night almost died
A COLD AND DESPERATE WALK
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Abandoned by Saskatoon cops in -22°C weather, Darrell Night almost died
SOME TIME after midnight on Jan. 28, 2000, Const. Dan Hatchen partnered up with Const. Ken Munson in a marked police cruiser. Both men were husky, but Munson had a way of carrying himself, a sort of game-on walk that signalled he meant business. After starting with the Saskatoon police in 1984, he received a decoration for
talking a native man out of jumping from a third-floor balcony window holding his three-month-old baby. Hatchen and Munson got along well; they’d been partners for the past six years.
The “starlight tour, ” the practice some Saskatoon police officers had of dropping offtroublesome natives on the edge of town regardless of weather conditions, was well-known in the city’s Aboriginal community. But it’s doubtful it would ever have become public knowledge, let alone the focus of a judicial inquiry into the November 1990 death ofl 7-year-old Neil Stonechild, if Darrell Night had not survived his own starlight tour in the winter of2000. Within five days of Night’s experience, two other native men were found frozen to death on Saskatoon’s outskirts, and Night spoke out, telling the frightening story reproduced in Starlight Tour: The Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild, by CBC journalists Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud. Excerpts:
At roughly 3 in the morning, Darrell Night walked out of a popular native nightclub in downtown Saskatoon called C-Weeds. Night was dressed for a night spent taxiing between bars or taking short walks to visit friends: a blue-jean jacket with a fleece collar, light blue denim shirt hanging loosely over a pair of jeans, white running shoes, no hat, no gloves. Tonight he was in a good mood and ready to party. He’d started out around 9 at a neighbourhood bar called the Red Rock Tavern at Avenue W and 22nd
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Street. He’d downed a couple of beers and watched some pool with his cousin Harry and Harry’s wife, Donna. The threesome then joined friends and taxied down to C-Weeds, where they’d stayed until closing. They moved on to a house party where, shortly after 5 in the morning, a fight broke out.
Night made for the door. No way was he getting caught up in this. A woman grabbed the phone to call the police. “F—ing assholes,” he thought. The party was over. Without looking back, he headed for the stairs. At least he didn’t have far to go after he emerged from the apartment building. The temperature with the wind chill was -22° C, but his sister lived just across a small park from where he was standing, and he could get there in three minutes if he cut through.
A police car drove by him. As it passed, it slowed slightly. Seeing the police triggered all of Night’s latent anger. He lunged off the sidewalk toward the cruiser and raised his right hand with the middle finger extended. All Hatchen could hear through the rolled-up windows of the cruiser was “f—ing bastards.” As the car continued to move past, Night pounded two or three times on either the trunk or the side panels.
Munson looked at his partner as if to say, “That’s not on.” He backed up until he was even with Night. He rolled down his window and, looking directly at him, asked, “What’s your problem?”
Night looked back at the officer with disgust. “About f— ing time you guys showed up. Do I have to tell you how to do your jobs? Get up there and f—ing stop those fights.” Something in the way Munson looked back made Night cover the last few steps to the cruiser. Leaning toward Munson until their faces were only 20 cm apart, he said, “What’s your f—ing problem?”
Hatchen and Munson got out of their cruiser. Night grew quiet; no matter what he said now he was going to the police station. Hatchen said, “You’re under arrest,” and cuffed Night before shoving him roughly onto the hard back seat of the police car. Hatchen had had trouble securing the cuffs, and to Night it felt as if they were tightening further. He grunted in pain. “You racist bastards. You’re only doing this ’cause I’m an Indian.” He leaned as far as he could to one side, trying to take his full weight offhis hands. He’d been in the same fix enough times to realize he should never have opened his mouth. The car made a U-turn, headed
east toward the police station. “C’mon, guys,” Night begged, “you don’t have to do this. I wasn’t doin’ anything. Just let me go.” Munson and Hatchen ignored him.
Riding as the passenger, Hatchen was responsible for making entries in the mobile terminal. Although they had arrested Night, neither of the police officers had asked him
Night did not move. It was so cold that Hatchen’s boots made a cracking sound as he stepped toward him.
“I said, get out of the car.”
When Night still refused to get out, Hatchen grabbed his arm and started to pull him out. The sudden pain made him yield, and he bashed his head into the top of the door
his name. Nor did Hatchen punch anything into the computer to record that they had someone in their back seat.
When they passed the intersection of Avenue H and Eleventh Street and carried on along the South Saskatchewan River, Night realized something was wrong. As it dawned on him they were leaving town, heading toward the power station, he remembered the rumours he’d heard. “I’m done for,” he thought. “These guys are going to beat the shit out of me, maybe even kill me. What the hell am I supposed to do?”
Scared for his life, he began pleading to be let go. “What are ya goin’ to do? Take me out to the landfill and shoot me?”
“No, you just have a little walk.”
Near the city limits, the car passed a building flooded with light. Darrell recognized the Queen Elizabeth Power Station. A few minutes later the car stopped. They were now more than two kilometres past the power plant. All of the trailer windows were dark. Night sat perfectly still, expecting the worst.
Hatchen got out of the passenger side and opened the door to the back seat. Munson stayed behind the wheel.
“Get out of the car,” Hatchen said.
frame on the way out. On the small roadway near an expanse of desolate, dark fields and a sleeping trailer park, the only light came from the stars, which flashed like shards of ice set in the blackness overhead.
Hatchen shoved Night a few steps toward the back of the cruiser and spun him around so he could remove the cuffs. Night fell awkwardly forward over the car’s trunk and the cold of the metal burned his cheek. Once the cuffs were off, the two officers got back in the car and slammed their doors. The britde snow crunched beneath the cruiser’s tires. “You can’t leave me here, I’ll freeze to death,” Night screamed.
The cruiser crawled forward a hundred metres or so and pulled a U-turn. As it approached Night, it slowed and stopped. The silence and the cold magnified the sound of the electric window on the driver’s side being lowered. It seemed like the only sound in the world. Munson eyeballed him again, almost exactly as he had in the beginning.
“That’s your f— ing problem,” he said.
Night watched in a daze as the red tail lights receded into the darkness and then disappeared entirely. As soon as Hatchen and Munson got onto Valley Road heading back to Saskatoon, Hatchen keyed “Available” into the car’s mobile data terminal. Immediately,
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the dispatcher back at the station requested they go to a parking dispute on Clancy Drive in the west end. Hatchen and Munson wrote nothing about the big native guy in their notebooks.
“It’ll be your f—in’ problem, if I get back,” Night said out loud. He took a few seconds to get his bearings as the alcohol and the adrenalin kept the cold briefly at bay. No use going straight north, he knew. Nothing there but the CN railway yards and the city dump, a giant mound that obscured the lights of Saskatoon. He didn’t even consider trying the trailers directly behind him, figuring no one would open the door for him. His best bet was the power station. They’d let him in and he could call a cab.
He turned up the collar of his jean jacket and hunched his shoulders, trying to protect his ears. He stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets and started walking eastward along Spadina, bordering the river, toward the lights of the power station. With his chin tucked into his jacket he watched his running shoes hitting the snow with a kind of hypnotic rhythm. He looked up after a few minutes. The power station seemed as far away as when he began. He despaired at his lack of progress. But the only thing he could do was to put his head down against the bitter wind and keep walking. When he looked up a second time and the lights seemed to be as far away as before, fear knotted his gut. “I’m not going to freeze to death out here,” he told himself over and over to ward off the other thoughts preying on the edges of his determination.
As Darrell Night was beginning his walk toward the power station, Mark Evoy was finishing his 12-hour shift. With 20 years’ experience at SaskPower, Evoy was one of six shift workers responsible for the 24-hour-aday operation of the plant. Shortly after 6, Evoy gathered the inter-office mail to take to the front office, on Spadina Crescent.
Darrell Night’s breath froze as it blew back in his face, slowly turning his eyebrows and hairline pure white. He wasn’t thinking clearly and each step was becoming increasingly difficult. He only realized he had reached the front door of the power station when light surrounded him on all sides. Strangely, he no longer felt the full bite of the cold. But he had been walking for 20 minutes and knew better than his deteriorating senses were telling him.
He stared at the shovelled sidewalk and
the front door. For the briefest of moments he wondered if he shouldn’t continue walking the remaining five kilometres into town.
“No, I need a cab. I’m not going to freeze to death,” he told himself for the thousandth time. He hammered with his bare hands on the glass doors. He knew he was going to freeze if he didn’t get inside soon. “If I have to I’ll break in,” he thought. But if the same cops who had dumped him out here came back and caught him, they might dump him even farther away. He hammered on the glass for 15 to 20 minutes. Surely someone had to hear him, eventually.
When Evoy walked into the front office shortly after 6, he was startled to see a giant native man wearing only a jean jacket banging on the other side of the glass.
Evoy did not let Night in at first, figuring he was drunk. Night was so preoccupied with banging on the window and not succumbing to the cold that he didn’t see Evoy.
For a minute or so, Evoy watched Night. Evoy took a step backwards into
the darkened office. He hesitated, not wanting to open the door.
“They’re going to find this guy on the front lawn in the morning if I don’t let him in,” Evoy said to himself, thinking of how cold it was outside. SaskPower wouldn’t be too pleased with him for allowing that to happen. So, despite his misgivings, he unlocked the door. He smelled alcohol and felt a blast of frigid air as Night’s bulk moved past him.
In his anxiety, Evoy started speaking before the man had even turned around. “What the hell are you doing out here at 6 o’clock in the morning?”
Night squinted back at Evoy. With his whitened hair and eyebrows, and ice-encrusted eyeglasses, he cut a sorry figure. The engineer took in the flimsy jean jacket, jeans, denim shirt and running shoes and could only shake his head in disbelief.
“What, do you think I want to be out here?” said Night in his booming, slow drawl. “The police. Those f—in’ bastards. Excuse my language. The police just dumped me out here.”
“I don’t understand. You’re saying the police did this to you?”
“I’m telling you those bastards picked me
Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud; Random House Canada; $35
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up downtown, drove me out here and said ‘Get out, you f—ing Indian.’ Then they left me to walk home.”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Evoy, afraid to say too directly that he didn’t believe him. “What do you want to do now?” “I need a cab. All I want to do now is go to bed. Could you call me a cab?”
“Do you have any money on you?” Night nodded, so Evoy searched one of the desks for a phone book. Not finding one, he turned back and asked, “Do you have a number?”
Night smiled. For him, taxis were the city’s transit system.
The number rolled off his tongue: “652-2222.”
Evoy motioned for Night to sit down on the long wooden bench in the reception area. As incredible as this guy’s story was, Evoy could not figure out how else Night could have gotten out here dressed so lightly. Sensing Evoy’s skepticism, Night rolled up the sleeves of his jean jacket and extended his arms. “There. Look at these. What do you think they are?” Red marks circled Night’s
wrists. After that Evoy said nothing else and just sat down to wait for the cab beside the man he had let in from the cold.
As he started back into the city along the river, cab driver John Friesen glanced into the back seat. The cold that had entered the car with Night magnified the stink of alcohol on his breath. His passenger was silent, but Friesen could tell he wasn’t happy.
“Not a bad job if you can get it, my friend. You got it good if you can do that. Wouldn’t work too well drinkin’ and drivin’ cab.” “Nah,” said Night in disgust. “I don’t work out there, you know. Guy just let me in. Couple of cops dumped me near the trailer park on the far side of the power plant and I walked back.” Friesen did a double take in
the mirror: the fellow was only wearing jeans, a denim shirt and a jean jacket.
“E—in’ bastards, excuse my language, I’m just pissed. I shouldn’t swear like that. They’ll regret this if I report them.” Night so doubted that anyone would believe his story he didn’t even sound convincing to himself. Complaining was a waste of time, he decided, and might even make things worse, so he shut up.
Night had every intention of staying quiet. But on the next day, Jan. 29, the body of Rodney Naistus, 25, was found shirtless and frozen to death a few kilometres from where Night had been the day before. And on Feb. 3 the frozen body of 30-year-old Lawrence Wegner—wearing only a T-shirt, jeans and clean socks— was found near the power station. Later that day, Darrell Night told his story to a police officer.
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