As neighbourhood outrage grows, Edmonton police remove tweet about sexual assault suspect on bail
EDMONTON -- Growing anger in an Edmonton neighbourhood has prompted police to take down a tweet about the bail release of a suspect accused of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl.
Police made the rare move of releasing information earlier this week on the bail release of 37-year-old Wade Stene, who is charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting the girl on March 10.
Details of the release included Stene's area of residence — in the same neighbourhood where the crime occurred.
The family of the little girl said in a statement provided to CTV News Edmonton they were "devastated" by the court's decision to release Stene back into the community.
"We used to walk by his house on a daily basis as it is so close to ours; we shouldn’t have to avoid certain streets out of fear that our daughter might see his face again," they wrote.
Several people gathered in the McQueen neighbourhood Thursday night in protest over Stene's bail release.
"This should be rescinded. He should be put back in remand until he gets his trial," said McQueen resident Robert Legere.
Video of the protest shows that at one point, a woman can be seen at the front entrance of a home, blocking a door with her foot and demanding to know Stene's whereabouts. The woman was later led away by police.
A lawyer for the Stene family released a letter written to Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee with concerns for the safety of the accused and his mother.
“I understand from Mr. Stene’s mother that the result has been that dozens of people have stood outside her house and gone onto her property. Many of these people have yelled at her when she has gone outside and some have threatened her. One woman even forced her way into her residence,” the statement from lawyer Mark Jordan wrote.
“This type of vigilante justice would surely not have occurred but for the EPS ‘public warning.’”
The letter asks McFee to ensure that officers will enforce the law to protect Stene and his mother.
Since notifying residents of Stene's release and living conditions, an Edmonton Police Service tweet was taken down due to "extreme comments" that were made in reply. However, the press release outlining his plans to live in McQueen remains online.
When police first released the details, criminal lawyers said it was the wrong move that put the suspect and court process at risk.
"I think that they've incited a furor," said Zack Elias of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association. "They want people with pitchforks."
The CTLA suggests Edmonton police overstepped their role and incited anger against a man who has not been tried or convicted.
"While I can understand the community being upset, we also have to respect the justice system."
Edmonton's police chief also defended the decision.
"We're not calling into question the bail process," he said. "We look at this from the perspective that we have an obligation to public safety."
Elias says the removal of the tweet indicated that police second-guessed their decision to send a warning.
He worries public uproar could get even worse and if it does, police will be to blame.
"I fully expect that we are going to see a complaint under the Police Act," he said.
The community is planning a larger protest Saturday which organizers insist will be peaceful.
Police say Stene is confined to his home and is wearing an ankle-monitoring bracelet.
None of the allegations against Stene have been tested or proven in court.