On February 19, 2004, Curt “Snoop” Duhard found himself on the receiving end of some good old-fashioned street justice dealt out by a 21-year-old refugee from Africa who found his way to Winnipeg via war-torn Somalia in 1999.
Duhard was a well-known drug dealer with significant gang associations and connections to the African community. On the date in question, he found himself on the wrong end of a sharp steel blade that hit its mark several times.
A quick response from EMS and heroic life saving efforts were the only things that kept the notorious drug dealer from meeting his end. When his wounds sufficiently healed, Duhard got out of the hospital and left town on a bullet.
Although Duhard was less than enthusiastic to aid the investigation, he did identify Yassin “Ace” Ibrahim as the suspect.
The file found its way to the WPS Homicide Unit where I was working as a Detective Sergeant with partner Detective Thane Chartrand, a talented Aboriginal officer with great intuition and excellent abilities in “the box” (interview room).
In the Homicide Unit, skill in “the box,” was everything. It was a place where cases were cracked. Suspect interrogation is critically important for investigators in the Homicide Unit; in fact, it’s their bread and butter.
Suspect confessions are critical to the resolution of crime, especially high-profile or serious crimes like attempted murder. Confessions solidify a criminal investigation and give prosecutors the edge when it comes to trials or plea bargain deliberations.
Getting a confession from an African child soldier, like Yassin Ibrahim, would be no easy task. Indeed, officers lined up to tell me stories about “Ace” and the astronomical odds against getting a confession from someone who grew up in a world full of war, murder, rape and hatred.
“He’ll never squawk, you’d have to pull out his finger nails to get him to talk,” one seasoned detective volunteered. (While I appreciated the advice, I hoped to explore other options.)
The stories about “Ace” were plentiful. A refugee who came to Winnipeg only to be sucked into the seedy world of street hustling, crack pedaling and gang life. Word on the street was “Ace” was virtually out of control, shaking down hookers, stabbing rival gangsters and torching houses.
Street sources indicated “Ace” would cut anyone for a five dollar bill. He was certainly no ordinary Winnipeg street thug. He was an extremely violent player who was credited with being one of the co-founders of the vicious Mad Cow street gang.
Before catching the case, I knew nothing about “Ace,” but I did know Curt Duhard, a bad ass in his own right. If “Ace” let Curt Duhard’s “air out,” then he had to be a serious player.
Nonetheless, I never walked into an interview room with the slightest inclination I wouldn’t be able to extract a suspect’s confession. That was my job and as a 17-year veteran, I put in the work. Regardless, good interrogators never contemplate failure as an option.
I met “Ace” on July 12, 2004 at the Provincial Remand Center where he was being held on unrelated charges. After formal introductions, we informed him we had a warrant for his arrest for the attempted murder of Curt “Snoop” Duhard. We further explained we were taking him to the Public Safety Building where we intended to interview him regarding the allegations.
“Ace” acknowledged his rights and politely asked to call counsel.
Once we arrived at the Police Station “Ace” got his phone call. After the mandatory “cool down” period we proceeded with the interrogation.
“Ace” gave the outward appearance of being a shy, respectful, polite young man. He was of average height with a slim build. It struck me his outward appearance and demeanor were not consistent with his reputation on the street.
When it comes to interrogation, I’m a strong proponent of the no-low-high jeopardy approach. I like to start by getting to know my offender; I need to hear his story, find out what makes him tick, what he likes, dislikes, what and how he thinks.
I like to examine a suspect’s character, moral code and belief system. Above all else, I believe in showing respect to offenders and always remaining non-judgmental. (In my experience, nothing shuts down an offender faster than when they sense they’re being judged.)
In the no jeopardy phase of the interrogation, “Ace” told me his life in Somalia before the war was good. He lived with his family, was going to school and doing well. When the war broke out in 1991 things took a terrible turn.
He found himself fleeing his home as the concussions from bomb blasts rapidly approached.
In the days that followed, young “Ace” witnessed daily killings. “It became part of everyday life,” he would say. He told me he lost a brother in 1992 and many of his relatives, but it was his father’s murder that left an indelible mark on him.
Ironically, his father was a police officer. “That’s why they killed him, all our family got sad. Yassin got more angry,” explained Ibrahim’s twin brother, Abdi, in an interview published in the Winnipeg Free Press.
According to Abdi, “Ace” was never able to get over his father’s death. Ibrahim and his family ended up in a Kenyan “concentration camp” from 1992 – 1999 where life continued to be difficult. Struggles for food, violence and death were all around him during these years.
On October 14, 1999, Ibrahim, his mother, little sister and three older brothers came to Canada and settled in Winnipeg’s inner city. While Ibrahim’s mother and other siblings embraced the Canadian dream, “Ace” fell prey to the lure of fast cash and the false promise of gang life.
“Ace” started slinging crack to sex trade workers and began living the life of a “street hustler.” It was a nowhere, dog-eat-dog life all too familiar to a kid raised in a violent African refugee camp.
While listening intently to Ibrahim’s story, it became clear he was the product of decent, hard working, religious parents. Those religious teachings were prominent in Ibrahim’s mind and despite his involvement in the thug life, he likened himself to be a good Muslim.
Although I knew nothing about the Muslim faith or the Koran for that matter, I knew religion would be an important theme in the interrogation. Central to any religious theme are the virtues of honesty, accountability and forgiveness, all areas for examination that would bear fruit.
As I interviewed “Ace” I could’t help but like him. His story, candor and respectful demeanor was remarkable. It wasn’t hard to understand the violence, the anger issues related to his father’s murder, and the cumulative effects of growing up in an outrageously violent culture, all had to be traumatic for him.
I respected him for what he’d experienced in his life, and that undoubtedly meant something to him. As the interview progressed, I could sense our connection and level of trust was growing. The pursuit of the religious theme worked to perfection and the confession came easy.
Ibrahim would provide a powerful, candid and detailed account of his life on the dark path that led him to that alley, where he repeatedly stabbed Curt Duhard:
“So I took my knife and I thought about a minute and I was like, ‘Maybe, you know, you don’t want to kill this guy’. And I never thought of me being a killer. And I knew that I was doing something stupid, but I had to do it. And the first time, James, to be honest with you, I hit him like right there by the ear or something. It was the face, I don’t remember. And I stab him by the leg or something, I think, I’m not sure. Then I stab him in the stomach. I think I hit him two or three times.”
Ibrahim knew the criminal consequences he was sure to suffer by providing a confession to a serious crime such as ‘attempt to commit murder’. The fact he chose to confess only underlines the complexities of his personality. In fact, I will never forget how brutally honest he was when he felt compelled to undermine one of his possible defences to the charge:
“I want to be clear, James, this was not self-defence, I wanted to teach him,” he said, clearing up any possible misunderstanding.
As if to offer an explanation for his candor, Ibrahim shared his philosophy:
“There was a reason for me to live in this country. And running away from problems and for the actions for the things that you did and facing the consequences is being coward, and I don’t believe in being coward. I would like to deal with the matter like the way I confessed here to this video and to the authorities, I would like to deal with it in a proper manner. And if I’m being misjudged for anything that I said, well, I have my God.”
At the conclusion of the interview, Ibrahim shed some light on the plight of the African refugee and the temptations they face trying to make it in the inner-city:
“I never thought of working for money. I never loved money. But people introduce me to this bad way of life in Winnipeg since I came. And I feel ashamed for the example for my family. And that’s one thing that hurts me everyday.”
The road for Yassin Ibrahim wouldn’t get any easier, as his conflicts with Canadian Justice continued.
In 2005, Ibrahim was alleged to have instigated an attack on a Headingley Jail inmate who had his eyeball carved out with a home-made shank. The charges were eventually dropped in favor of a deportation order.
On March 24, 2008, Ibrahim was unceremoniously removed from Canada and deported back to war-torn Somalia.
On Monday, April 29, 2013 the WPS Street Crime Unit announced the arrests of nine key players of the Mad Cow street gang who were collared in Project Recall.
In the ying and yang of street gang life in Winnipeg, it doesn’t seem all that much has changed since Yassin Ibrahim stuck his knife into Curt Duhard.
Winnipeg Free Press Gabrielle Giroday “African Mafia – The Power of a Name.”
Winnipeg Free Press Staff Writer “One Flew East One Flew West.”
Winnipeg Free Press Staff Writer “Should Somalia’s Anarchy Rule Out Deportation?”
Winnipeg Free Press Mike McIntyre “Judge Shows Pity on Sudanese Man for Jailhouse Assault.”