Mayerthorpe tragedy

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Mayerthorpe tragedy
Location North of Rochfort Bridge, Alberta
Coordinates 54°0′55″N 115°1′18″W / 54.01528°N 115.02167°W / 54.01528; -115.02167Coordinates: 54°0′55″N 115°1′18″W / 54.01528°N 115.02167°W / 54.01528; -115.02167
Date Thursday, March 3, 2005
9:57–10:00 am MST (UTC−07:00)
Attack type
shooting
Weapon(s) Heckler & Koch 91
Deaths 5 (including the perpetrator)
Perpetrator James Roszko

The Mayerthorpe tragedy occurred on March 3, 2005, on the property of James Roszko, approximately 11 km (6.8 mi) north of Rochfort Bridge near the Town of Mayerthorpe in the Canadian province of Alberta. With a Heckler & Koch 91, Roszko shot and killed Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constables Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon, Lionide Johnston, and Brock Myrol as the officers were executing a property seizure on the farm. This was the worst one-day loss of life for the RCMP in 100 years.

The tragedy[edit]

Other officers initially went to the farm to assist bailiffs in trying to repossess a truck, but Roszko fled in it. Numerous stolen vehicle parts and a marijuana grow-op were found on the premises. Search warrants were obtained and executed but not before they had searched the farm. Constables Gordon and Johnston were providing scene security. Cst. Schiemann arrived to drop off Cst. Myrol. The four officers were ambushed inside a quonset shed on the farm. Roszko had returned to the property after getting a ride from Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman during the night and laid in wait for an opportunity.

After fatally shooting the four officers, Roszko emerged from the shed and engaged in gunfire with Cpl. Steve Vigor who was a member of the Auto Theft team that had arrived earlier to examine the vehicles on the property. Roszko, wounded during either the initial exchange of gunfire in the quonset or during the exchange with the two officers outside, then retreated into the shed.

After losing radio contact with the officers in the shed, RCMP Emergency Response Teams and an armoured vehicle from the Canadian Forces' Edmonton Garrison were called in, and the airspace over the property was closed. The four officers and Roszko were all found fatally shot; it was later determined that Roszko killed all four officers, and then turned his weapon on himself after being wounded by Cpl. Vigor.

Alberta Justice called a public fatality inquiry into the deaths at Mayerthorpe, which began on January 11. 2011 in Stony Plain Provincial Court. The Alberta Public Fatalities Act states that inquiries can only occur after all related criminal investigations and judicial proceedings are complete.

Aftermath[edit]

The memorial in Fallen Four Memorial Park in Mayerthorpe
"We Remember" bronze statue outside the Whitecourt RCMP detachment honouring the fallen four
Three of the four Mounties names shown engraved at the Cenotaph at Depot in Regina

A memorial service for the slain officers was held in Edmonton on March 10, 2005 and televised nationally on CBC. Prime Minister Paul Martin and Governor General Adrienne Clarkson both spoke at the service. Many police officers from Canada and the United States were in attendance.

On May 19, 2005, Queen Elizabeth II, attended a ceremony in honour of the slain officers at the RCMP Academy, "Depot" Division, in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The CBC program the fifth estate also made a documentary about the tragedy, which first aired on December 7, 2005. The full documentary can be downloaded from the CBC website. Given the ongoing criminal investigation and resulting court proceedings, the RCMP's ability to participate in the documentary was very limited. The guilty pleas of Cheeseman and Hennessey, the Agreed Statement of Facts, the dismissal of the sentence appeals and testimony at the 2011 Public Fatality Inquiry into the murders call a significant amount of the content in the documentary into question.

The Fallen Four Memorial Society was founded to honour the slain policemen. The group initiated the building of the Fallen Four Memorial Park in Mayerthorpe which opened on July 4, 2008.

Also in 2008, a bronze statue was unveiled in Whitecourt in honour of the fallen four. The boots represent those of Constable Gordon who was stationed at Whitecourt.[1]

On October 21, 2011, the Commissioner of the RCMP, William J.S. Elliot, announced that the RCMP officers will have a new weapon at their disposition, the C8 Rifle. One of the main conclusions that lead to this result was the fact that the officers who were shot down did not have the appropriate weapon to face someone with a semi-automatic rifle, as stated in the public inquiry.[2]

James Roszko[edit]

James Roszko (October 8, 1958 – March 3, 2005) was a Canadian man who at the time of the massacre was operating a hydroponic marijuana grow-op outside of Mayerthorpe, Alberta. According to documents obtained by the CBC's the fifth estate in a court case to have the search warrants made public, police seized seven growing marijuana plants, and 88 harvested plants from the residence, plus a further 192 growing marijuana plants along with growing equipment from the quonset. Roszko was also suspected of various property crimes, which were the main thrust of the investigation prior to the shooting. He had a history of violent and sexual offences. He was prohibited from legally possessing firearms at the time of the tragedy.

Police also found lists containing the names and call signs of RCMP officers from the detachments in Mayerthorpe, Whitecourt and Evansburg. The lists also contained the cellular numbers assigned to their vehicles.

Charges[edit]

On July 9, 2007, two men, Shawn Hennessey, 28, and Dennis Cheeseman, 23, were charged as parties to the offences committed by James Roszko. In 2006, Mr. Hennessey denied any links to the crime. The RCMP spent more than $2-million investigating the tragedy, using between 40 and 200 officers on the case since 2005. The charges were the result of a controversial type of undercover investigation called "Mr. Big" and the two accused men appeared in court on July 12.[3][4] The murder charges against Mr. Hennessey and Cheeseman are controversial because neither man was at the crime scene when the shootings took place. In Canada, anyone who is a party to the murder of a police officer acting in the course of their duties is automatically charged with first degree murder under Section 231(4)(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada.[5] On January 19, 2009, Hennessey and Cheeseman pled guilty to four counts of the lesser charge of manslaughter. According to the Agreed Statement of Facts, signed by Hennessey, Cheeseman and their lawyers, the two men provided James Roszko with a shotgun, they wiped it down for fingerprints and placed it in a pillowcase for Roszko. They also gave Roszko a ride back to the vicinity of his farm. Both men knew that Roszko was well armed and watched him wear socks over his boots – a tactic employed to mask his footprints in the snow. Both men later admitted that they knew that Roszko had plans to return to his property and harm police. After dropping him off near his farm, Cheeseman suggested to Hennessey that they call police. Hennessey disagreed and the call was not made. The Agreed Statement of Facts is available to the public on the Alberta Justice website.

On January 30, 2009 Hennessey and Cheeseman were sentenced to 15 and 12 years in prison respectively, with credit given for their early guilty plea and for time served. Hennessey will serve approximately 10 years for his role and Cheeseman will serve seven years. Both men appealed their sentences to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which dismissed their appeals and upheld their sentences in September 2010. The two co-accused filed their respective appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada in April and May 2011 but the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on August 25, 2011.[6][7]

In popular culture[edit]

Corb Lund referenced this tragedy in a verse of the title track to his album Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!

On February 10, 2008, CTV aired a feature length made-for-TV movie called "Mayerthorpe".[8]

Toronto musician Ko Kapches made the Mayerthorpe tragedy the focus of his 2009 song "The Ballad of Jimmy Roscoe."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]