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Oriena Vuong
Mark Rendell

UPDATED: Denecho King and YK's Jailbreak History

Rumours fly as police scour the streets — and we look at Yellowknife's wild and wooly history of jailbreaks and escapes

 

UPDATE, August 13:

The manhunt for Denecho King has ended, with police apprehending the alleged murderer in the Sissons Court area, mid morning on Saturday.
According to reports from CBC, which was on the scene, King was seen emerging from a building shirtless, and was placed in a police vehicle as police informed him he was under arrest for being unlawfully at large.
A press release announcing the arrest was sent out by RCMP shortly before 11 a.m.
“Yellowknife RCMP advise they have escaped prisoner, Denecho KING, in custody,” the press release reads. “Yellowknife RCMP would like to thank the citizens of Yellowknife for the assistance through the tips provided, and for their cooperation with the traffic checkstops and neighbourhood inquirie.”
King, 23, escaped from the North Slave Correctional Centre, where he was awaiting trial for murder and attempted murder, on Wednesday, leading to a large-scale manhunt across the city.
For several days, RCMP officers in camo, dog teams, police vehicles, marked and unmarked vehicles, could be all be seen zipping around Yellowknife. The operation quickly expanded to include not just Yellowknife division RCMP, but officers from the federal investigative unit, major crimes unit, traffic units, and even from neighbouring detachments.
On Wednesday, shortly after the escape, police had set up road stops on both Highway 3 and the Ingraham Trail, checking every vehicle trying to leave town. By Thursday, that had changed to conducting random traffic stops. By Friday, wanted posters showing King’s face appeared in public places across the city.
King had appeared before court the day before the jailbreak, where the dates for his preliminary trial were set for a marathon 11 full days, starting in November. King is accused of murdering 39-year-old diamond polisher John Wifladt and severely injuring his friend Colin Digness, then 41, in a brutal late night attack in Sunridge Place in December 2014.

***

More than 48 hours after alleged killer Denecho King escaped from jail, “wanted” posters bearing his face glare at passersby in public places downtown while RCMP teams continue to scour the city’s streets. A group of several police officers in marked and unmarked vehicles, some wearing camo, some plain clothed, were seen in action earlier this afternoon. Several vehicles parked outside a building (we’re omitting location details to ensure our reporting does not interfere with the search) while the officers and a dog team searched inside, coming out several minutes later, apparently empty-handed.

Every police resource in Yellowknife remains deployed in the search, the acting spokesperson for the RCMP told EDGE on Friday, including officers from federal investigative units, major crimes unit, traffic units, and even neighbouring detachments. Random traffic stops are taking place around the city.  

“From my understanding, the resources are primarily focused within city limits,” said Marie York-Condon, who wouldn’t offer any specific details about the nature or locations of the ongoing investigation. “However, [the RCMP] would follow up any tips outside city limits as well,” she added.

Rumours, of course, are flying throughout the city, especially via social media — so much so that an incorrect post about King’s capture on YK Classified last night had local Facebook abuzz this morning with conflicting accounts. RCMP subsequently sent out a press release asking the public “to be cautious of information on social media regarding the apprehension of KING… [and to] refrain from posting on social media the whereabouts and activities of RCMP members, as this could jeopardize both public safety and officer safety.”

A history of jailbreaking

King’s escape is the first from the North Slave Correctional Centre since it was opened in 2004, but it certainly isn’t the first jailbreak in Yellowknife’s history. It’s not even the first jailbreak via rooftop, as may be the case with King according to an NNSL report in Friday's paper.  

Early one Sunday morning in April, 1986, three inmates in a maximum security cell took advantage of ongoing renovations at the Yellowknife Correctional Centre, jimmied the electronic monitoring system and made a break for freedom through a boarded-up hole in the roof. Walter Dick, Larry Simons and Keith Lester got busy immediately, breaking into the Airporter Restaurant and purloining $2400 in cash, and then stealing a car and heading off south down the highway. The trio didn’t get very far. Later that day they were arrested in Behchokǫ̀ after getting their stolen car into an accident.

This wouldn’t be Lester’s last time on the lam. In September, 1996, he and Robert Albert walked out of YCC after discovering a broken door alarm. This time, the escapees managed to elude capture for a couple of days, before an anonymous tipster led them to two houses on Williams Avenue where each man had been holed up. Albert and Lester — who had been due to be released mid-December of that year — were each handed 10-month sentences for their escapades, while one Vera Cardinal, the woman who had provided the houses, was granted a five-month conditional discharge.

As for Yellowknife’s very first jailbreak ever, it’s hard to be sure, but an incident from February of 1969 is a candidate. Back then, all the city had was a “correctional camp” that had been operating escapee-free for two years, until a fellow by the name of John Charles Olsen found himself incarcerated for four months after an incident of indecent assault at the Gold Range Hotel. Unimpressed with camp conditions, he simply walked away after breakfast one morning, heading across the frozen lake to a shack on Latham Island, where he was found by police a couple of hours later. Justice moved quickly those days. Four days later he was shipped off to Saskatchewan to serve another six months.

The most recent escape attempt in Yellowknife took place in 2014, when David Maniyogina, then 34, managed to slip out of the back of a patrol car parked outside the RCMP detachment by undoing his handcuffs and slipping through a small plexiglass opening into the front of the vehicle. It took police almost two hours to track down Maniyogina, who was facing charges for assault, breach of probation and causing a disturbance, and was being transported from Stanton Territorial Hospital to the RCMP detachment after a court appearance that morning.

There have been multiple similar incidents over the years, involving short-lived breaks for freedom while prisoners are being transferred from one location to another. After Stanley Ameralik ran away from a police officer while being taken out of the Yellowknife courthouse one evening in late 2009 — after outrunning the police officer, he remained on the lam for 16 hours before being caught — RCMP changed their prisoner transport protocol, but vulnerabilities still remain, in large part because the Yellowknife courthouse, which was not built as a courthouse and so doesn’t have key features such as a “sally port” — a secured drive-in area in which prisoners can be loaded and unloaded.

The territory’s most recent  “jailbreak” proper took place in 2010 in Hay River, when Nathan Mark Betsedea, then 22, walked out of the front door of the minimum-security South Mackenzie Correctional Centre in Hay River. He was picked up the following morning walking along the highway 25 km south of the town.

Details of King’s escape are still emerging, as per reports that King made his break via rooftop. The department of Justice has only confirmed that “corrections officials have determined the area of inmate escape” and that it will not offer any further comment until the Critical Incident Review team investigating the escape has “collected all information.”  

According to an employee at NSCC who asked for anonymity, there is currently no general protocol in place to deal with a prisoner breaking out, other than locking down the facility. “It would instantly go to a warden and director level,” they said. Although, they added that “once they’ve escaped it’s an RCMP issue.”

-with files from Matthew Mallon and Oriena Vuong

 

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