This young eyewitness has helped The Black Rod reconstruct the final five minutes of the troubled life of the teenager who died of a police bullet in January.
The story begins as Matthew Dumas ducked into the back yard of a house on Dufferin Avenue after managing to elude the police officers who were chasing him that afternoon.
Matthew had been unfazed by the huge signs proclaiming Beware Of Dog, and, indeed, by the big dog itself who was chained in the back yard and whose native name meaning "bear" accurately describes its size. The dog's barking aroused the home's resident who opened the back door to see what was going on.
He found Matthew, winded but calm, standing beside his back door. The youth asked if a certain boy lived there, certainly a ruse to explain his presence there. He had a cigarette in his hand and the home's resident gave him a light from his own smoke.
A moment later, a police officer showed up, no doubt attracted by the barking dog. He asked the homes' resident if he knew the boy, and, told not, he took the youth by one arm and lead him into the back lane to the north of the house. The policeman was unarmed.
The resident stepped back inside his home, but seconds later he heard his daughter cry out: "Daddy, they're beating him up."
Looking out a back window with a clear view of the path to the lane, she was watching two policemen (the 'they' in her statement) fighting with Dumas.
By the time her father looked, Dumas had broken away and was running east in the lane. Her father saw a police officer give chase. He then saw an amazing sight--- Dumas and the police literally running in circles through the neighbourhood.
Another witness said that this time they had their guns out. Dumas ran past several houses before turning south, through a yard and onto Dufferin Avenue. He ran west on Dufferin, then north through the same yard where the police had caught up to him. He reached the lane, then turned east again, down the lane, and---apparently lost the police.
The account of Crystal McManus (Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 2) takes up the story perfectly. She just passed Andrews and was walking east on Dufferin when a police officer, with his gun out, passed her. This is the Metis officer who fired the fatal shots.
She heard a message coming across a police radio stating that "one suspect was still at large and was armed". This recollection is crucial to the story as we’ll see later.
Up ahead she saw two other officers come out onto Dufferin from between two houses.
These would presumably be the two who were chasing Dumas. Another eyewitness said they had their guns out. They started walking west toward Andrews Street, when suddenly, out from a yard stepped Matthew Dumas. He was now sandwiched --- two policemen to his left and one to his right. He turned right.
By then, he and the chasing police were exhausted. He was walking, not running, west on Dufferin, with the two police officers walking lock-step behind him towards a townhouse complex, according to witnesses who take up the story here.
They saw one of the police officers reach Matthew and try to subdue him with pepper spray. Matthew would not stop. Ahead of him the lone policeman began backing up. He had his gun drawn. He told Matthew to drop the weapon he had in his hand, but the youth didn't listen. The policeman fired his gun, killing Matthew. Only four or five minutes had elapsed from the time he stopped in the back yard of the house on Dufferin to the time he died of a gunshot.
In his hands he held a screwdriver. Without prompting, an area resident immediately referred to it as a car thief's tool-of-the-trade.
He didn't have it when he stood at the back door to the house.
He obviously produced it either during that final chase or, more likely given the warning issued on the police radio overhead by Crystal McManus, during the fight in the back lane.
Matthew Dumas was described as a good-natured youth, average in height and build and no physical match for two policemen. If ever he needed a weapon, this was it.
The neighbourhood is still shaken by what happened that day. But without taking a position on the alleged reason Matthew was shot, residents remain irritated at the way they were treated by police in the minutes, hours and days after the shooting.
They say that police officers who canvassed the area immediately after the shooting were abrupt and disinterested in what residents had to say. They are still upset that police initially said only one shot was fired. Everyone you talk to instantly says they heard two shots and wonder why the police gave out wrong information.
They wonder why city crews showed up within 48 hours to clear the snow from the sidewalk where the shooting took place. They say the snow was knee deep along the curb and the house sides of the sidewalk, but that a clear path existed all down the centre of the sidewalk and that there was no snowbank blocking the retreat of the police officer who shot Matthew Dumas.
They wonder how the city moved so quickly to get rid of the snow, and yet their efforts to get the city tear down a burned out two-storey house right beside the scene of the shooting have fallen on deaf ears for 6 months.
And, most sad and troubling of all, they tell of a neighbourhood where residents and police are so mutually afraid of each other that a shooting like that of Matthew Dumas was almost inevitable.
It's a story of police so scared that we were told of incidents when police have taken their guns out of their holsters at the mere approach of someone while they were making an arrest, even if it was just someone asking "What's going on?" in his own back lane.
It's a story of residents so scared of police that instead of being relieved to see police officers walk the rough neighbourhood, they tense up and wish them gone as soon as possible.
There is evidence suggesting that the residents’ distrust of the ACTIONS of the city and the police AFTER the shooting is legitimate, and should have been addressed by the authorities. But there is also evidence that they distrust the media too - for portraying them as blaming the police for Dumas' death and giving currency to the radicals who used their situation to score political points.
What is the story behind the story - how is it that newsrooms and reporters and journalists of Winnipeg, failed to discover the obvious, and report what happened in the back lane?
Not only would they have been able to learn what we did, about the fight before the shooting (that only the Black Rod has reported on) but they would have learned that, contrary to what the Terry Nelsons claim about race relations, the neighborhood affected by this tragedy is by no means, a boiling pot of tension and hatred.
The residents wanted to help and were shut out. They wanted to know what happened out their back doors and were told to mind their own business. Their elected representatives are silent and the media turned a deaf ear.
A homeowner in the area took pictures of the scene of the backlane fight, showing police markers in the trampled snow, but couldn't interest any Winnipeg newsroom, especially, he said, APTN.
He said the police spent more time poking around the back lane than they did at the actual scene of the shooting. Surely that was a clue that should have aroused the curiousity of any reporter.
Instead, newsrooms were too busy lining up interviews with speculators rather than with witnesses.
Speaking of speculators, the CBC talked to ten "experts" -- in the theory of police work ---to come up with a story blaming the police for not handcuffing Matthew Dumas. They missed entirely the story of the fight between Dumas and police in the back lane because they didn't speak to one single expert in fact gathering.
Their reporter even ignored the CBC’s own story, which was posted on their website the day after the shooting, in which they reported:
"When officers caught up with him, police say Dumas brandished some type of weapon and fought with them."
Obviously this was dismissed as a police fabrication --- dismissed until a ten-year-old girl’s frantic cry surfaced --- here.
Now, four months later, the facts are still there to be gathered.
And the burned-out house that Matthew Dumas walked past towards his end, still stands, like a haunted reminder to the neighborhood, that no one is listening to them and no one is answering their questions.