A B.C. Supreme Court ruling has shed more light on the ongoing investigation into a “brazen” fatal gang shooting at a Burnaby gas station early last year.
On Jan. 18, 2020, at about 6:30 p.m., 28-year-old Julian Johnson was shot multiple times at the Chevron gas station at Willingdon Avenue and Canada Way, across the street from BCIT, according to police reports at the time.
A ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Riley last week said Johnson had been inside a white Toyota RAV4, and video footage from nearby security cameras indicated the shooters were riding in a black Nissan Rogue.
Johnson was rushed to hospital but succumbed to his injuries.
He was “known to police,” according to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, and his shooting was believed to be linked to the ongoing Lower Mainland gang conflict.
“This was a brazen shooting in a public place and we are relieved no one else was hurt,” IHIT spokesperson Sgt. Frank Jang said in a news release at the time.
Within hours of the shooting, police located a burning Nissan Rogue that had been abandoned in a Langley field, Riley’s ruling said.
An examination of the torched vehicle turned up two parts from two handguns – a slide and a magazine for each of the two firearms, according to the ruling.
After obtaining a search warrant, police took swabs from all four door handles and located and seized a black glove, a bullet casing and a bullet from inside the vehicle, the ruling said.
It turned out the Rogue had also had a tracking device installed in it as part of another police investigation unrelated to the Burnaby shooting.
The tracking data in the days before the shooting indicated the vehicle had been parked at the Richmond Sandman Hotel, according to the ruling.
Homicide investigators paid that hotel a visit, found out which room the occupants of the Rogue had been staying in and examined it for fingerprints, the ruling said.
Some of those prints came back to N.M. – a “known member of a well-known gang operating throughout British Columbia,” according to the court ruling.
(N.M.'s identity has been anonymized as no charges have yet been laid in the case.)
N.M. and three other individuals were then arrested in West Vancouver on Jan. 28, 2020 as part of another, unrelated investigation.
That arrest led to the seizure of five cell phones, the ruling said.
The ruling noted N.M. – “a potential suspect in the murder investigation” – is currently at large on outstanding warrants for unrelated matters in both Canada and the United States.
Crown prosecutors were in court to request an order allowing police to hold on to some of the seized items even though it has been more than a year since they were taken and no charges have been laid.
The application included the firearms components found in the Nissan Rogue; the four swabs taken in the Rogue; the black glove, bullet casing and bullet seized from the Rogue; a BlackBerry cell phone seized from N.M. during his arrest in West Vancouver; and another BlackBerry seized from the centre console of a Ford Explorer during the arrest of the other three individuals in West Van.
The ruling noted analysis of the gun parts had not yet been completed; some of the swabs haven’t been analyzed; and data has not yet been extracted from the two BlackBerries because they are encrypted.
“Investigators are hopeful that with further technological advancements they may be able to access these devices for use in the investigation,” Riley said.
Riley noted the importance of balancing “property and privacy interests of those from whom things have been seized, and the interests of law enforcement and society at large in the proper investigation of serious criminal activity.”
But he ultimately ruled it was “in the interests of justice” to allow police to hold on to the firearms components, swabs and other items seized from the Nissan Rogue until Jan. 28, 2022.
“The incident fits an increasingly familiar, dangerous pattern in which the perpetrators shoot the victim to death, flee the scene in a vehicle, drive to an adjacent municipality, set the vehicle alight, and abandon it. There is a compelling public interest in allowing the police the necessary time to properly and thoroughly investigate criminal activity of this kind,” Riley said.
As for the further detention of the two BlackBerries, Riley said he was willing to adjourn the matter and hear further arguments and evidence from the Crown prosecutor.
The matter is scheduled to return to New Westminster Supreme Court on Aug. 25.