For the first time in Saskatchewan’s history, police have charged alleged drug dealers with manslaughter in connection to fatal overdoses.
On Friday, all three accused in this case made their first court appearance at Saskatoon provincial court. Each faces four counts of manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and three counts of negligence causing bodily harm.
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“We have witness statements identifying them as trafficking,” said Staff Sgt. Vince Ashmeade, with the major crime section of the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS).
“Our analysis of phones that have come back, and our analysis of the drugs. Put all those together with the other evidence we have that will come out in court and it will speak to how those charges were laid.”
The charges against all three men stem from a series of drug overdoses that took place within a matter of hours on March 10, 2018.
As the tainted drugs hit the street, first responders rushed to various parts of the city going from one overdose call to the next with victims telling authorities they had purchased the drugs from a dealer known as “Joe” or “Joey.”
In total, seven people were taken to hospital, four people died and three others survived. They reportedly used cocaine that was confirmed to be laced with fentanyl.
In a rare move, police released the dealer’s name and phone number which led to arrests. According to Ashmeade, one accused was caught flushing drugs down the toilet when SPS officers arrived to take him into custody.
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Now, all three men were back before a judge for this new set of charges.
Azam Kabani, 20, who was previously released on $7,500 bail was re-arrested on Feb. 15 in New Westminster, B.C., and taken back to Saskatoon.
A representative for his lawyer, requested a bail hearing be set for Feb. 27.
Shervin Beeharry, 20, and Japmanjot Gerwal, 22, were arrested at the Regina Correctional Centre on Feb. 21. Both are scheduled back in court on Feb. 25.
All three are already facing drug-related charges. Police said if the 40-plus officers who worked on the file had enough evidence to lay the manslaughter charges sooner, they would have.
One legal expert who spoke to Global News, said manslaughter charges are rarely laid against alleged drug dealers because it’s hard to prove they know exactly what’s in the drugs they’re selling.
In this case, police said there were indications the men knew the cocaine was dangerous, even deadly.
“Two of the survivors contacted the dealer realizing the cocaine was tainted and alerted them that there was something wrong,” Ashmeade said.
“After this warning, at least one more sale was made which resulted in two more people overdosing and dying.”