An Alberta man who faced charges in Yellowknife of trafficking cocaine and possessing $14,000 deemed "proceeds of crime" has been found not guilty by a Supreme Court judge.
Noel Gideon Adali Dopiti was charged after his arrest in a 2018 raid at a Yellowknife apartment complex, where police reported seizing 280 grams of crack cocaine, firearms, and close to $16,000 in cash.
Dopiti faced trial while another man, Faisal Aden, admitted trafficking. Aden received 33 months in prison followed by one year's probation.
A third man, Andrew Roberts of British Columbia, was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, three counts of careless use of a firearm, and other gun charges.
Dopiti's trial in NWT Supreme Court concluded with his acquittal on the two charges he faced.
Despite what Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar termed "very suspicious activity" on Dopiti's part, the judge could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Dopiti was in possession – as was alleged – of a backpack containing drugs and cash.
Mahar said police surveillance of Yellowknife's Sunridge Apartments, as part of the case, had been "compromised to a certain extent" as transactions took place in a doorway where police could not clearly see who was involved.
It was nevertheless quite clear, Mahar said in his November decision, that an ongoing cocaine trafficking business was taking place in the Sunridge building.
At around 12:45am on February 3, 2018, a police emergency response team entered the building. "That's when things started to go a little sideways," the judge said.
According to one corporal's testimony, officers supposed to guard a doorway inside the residence were not in place before other officers went through a street-side window.
By the time the police made their way to the top of the hallway, "the flash bangs had already gone off," and at least one person was running out of one of the apartments, Mahar said. In the next few seconds, Dopiti emerged from the apartment door and ran in one direction, then Aden ran out of the door in the other direction.
A backpack containing cocaine and cash was left in the hallway.
None of the police officers present at the time of the arrest could recall seeing Dopiti with the bag, except one officer who said they noticed Dopiti carrying a backpack.
Ongoing surveillance by police did not involve Dopiti in any "hand-to-hand trafficking" at the apartment complex.
Dopiti was arrested with $800 cash, which Mahar considered "suspicious" but not enough to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Aden was found with close to 20 grams of rock cocaine – individually wrapped – and $420 in cash.
An 'appealing market' in Yellowknife
At a preliminary hearing for Dopiti and Aden in February 2019, Territorial Court Chief Judge Christine Gagnon laid out the state of the illicit drug trade in Yellowknife.
“Our market in Yellowknife is a very appealing one,” she said, noting criminals come to the city to prey on vulnerable addicts.
“The courts must send a message that drug trafficking is strongly denounced up here. People come up here to make a fast turnaround – they sell drugs and they leave.”
Crown prosecutor Jeff Major-Hansford noted that while Aden was being arrested following the raid, his phone rang often. When the phone was answered by police, those on the other end were offering to trade or pawn personal items in exchange for crack cocaine.
During sentencing, Aden apologized for his crimes. He told the court his incarceration at the North Slave Correctional Complex gave him an understanding of how cocaine affects individuals and families. “I just want to get on with my life,” he said.
James O'Connor contributed reporting.