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Crime
Health
Yellowknife

Court hears story behind disturbing 50 Street video


The footage shocked Yellowknife city councillors in the spring of 2019: a woman lying apparently unconscious on a frozen downtown sidewalk after being thrown into a headlock by her boyfriend. 

As the attacker walked away, toward the nearby day shelter and sobering centre, other people were seen walking around the immobile victim. Finally, a woman from the neighbouring Finn Hansen Building came to offer aid.

The Finn Hansen Building’s owner, April Desjarlais, spent some of 2019 sharing a series of security camera videos to Facebook showing violent crimes taking place on Yellowknife’s 50 Street.

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That assault, in March 2019, was one of them. Many people living and working on the street, Desjarlais said at the time, “have endured threats of violence and even threats against our lives, multiple times.”

The story behind that one video was told in Territorial Court on Wednesday this week, as Edgar Lee Jerome awaited sentencing for the assault on his girlfriend and a later assault of a staff member in the sobering centre’s entrance.

“What I find disturbing is [the victim] is deposited on the ground and left there,” said Judge Christine Gagnon after viewing the video.

“She appeared to be unconscious. The degree of force that was placed on [the victim] was significant, to produce that result.”

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Gagnon acknowledged the woman attacked Jerome first by pushing him from behind, but said “what is at stake here is the proportionality of his response.”

The court did not hear if the woman had been knocked unconscious for any period of time, but she was eventually able to walk to the sobering centre with assistance. Police were not called, but Jerome was arrested and charged for that assault four months later.

“Mr Jerome did not appreciate the severity of the situation,” said defence lawyer Tú Pham, noting the woman had been charged with assaulting him in the past.

In a January 2020 incident, a video from the sobering centre shows the couple entering the facility. The woman punches Jerome. He returns the blow and a fistfight ensues in the front vestibule. An employee soon arrives and is struck with a punch from Jerome that was intended for his girlfriend. In the melee, Jerome receives a substantial strike to his nose from his girlfriend, which appears to cause him significant pain.

Jerome also pleaded guilty to breaching a bail release order not to contact the woman after the March 2019 incident.

“His troubled relationship with [the woman] ended up spilling over into the public and impacting a third party in the course of his employment,” said Crown prosecutor Travis Weagant.

“This is a facility that deals with people who have substance abuse issues and the staff that work there are doing their best to work in service to these people. When this type of thing happens at their place of work … I’m not sure how the sobering centre I supposed to retain staff.”

The court heard Jerome, 48, is originally from Aklavik. Both his parents went to residential school, but he had a good childhood with no violence in the home. He finished Grade 9 in Inuvik and engaged in a series of skilled labour jobs.

At times in 2019 and 2020, he found himself homeless and reliant on the sobering centre for assistance. Since those incidents, Jerome has moved to Fort Smith and is living with a different former girlfriend, her boyfriend, and that couple’s young child. That living situation appears to be stable, the court was told, with Jerome working full-time and out of trouble with the law.

“He certainly has had troubles in the past but has been on the right path for some time,” said Pham.

The Crown and defence agreed on the need for a jail sentence that could be served under house arrest. At issue was the length of the term.

Weighing arguments of between three and 10 months, Judge Gagnon decided five months was appropriate.

The sentence was broken down as: 90 days for the March 2019 assault, 45 days for the January 2020 sobering centre employee assault, and 15 days for breaching the court order.

During house arrest in Fort Smith, Jerome will be able to leave his home for work and medical reasons. He is allowed a two-hour outing each Saturday from 1pm to 3pm. He is to abstain from alcohol, illegal drugs, and any intoxicating substances.

He is to take counselling as directed. He must not contact his former girlfriend during the period of house arrest, nor for one year following that while on unsupervised probation.

The Finn Hansen Building owner’s presentation to city council in the spring of 2019 eventually resulted in an independent evaluation of the centre, which is funded by the territorial government and run by the NWT Disabilities Council. 

A good neighbour agreement was signed by the GNWT, the city, RCMP, and area businesses in October 2019, one month after a man was killed directly in front of the sobering centre in September 2019. That fatal attack was also caught on security camera footage.

The value of that good neighbour agreement has recently been questioned by some business owners on the street, while working practices at the centre are being examined by the territorial government following a Cabin Radio investigation into complaints by staff.

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