A former gang associate has been acquitted of numerous firearms charges arising from the seizure of a weapon arsenal from a Vancouver storage locker.
Derek James Stephens was arrested after police investigated an incident in July 2017 that had aroused the suspicions of an employee at the Maple Leaf Self Storage facility on Commercial Drive.
Police searched the locker and discovered five bags or suitcases containing various items including firearms and ammunition.
In one hockey bag, police found three semi-automatic rifles, two semi-automatic pistols and a semi-automatic carbine along with an oversized cartridge magazine, a gun cleaning kit, five black ski masks and two packages of plastic zap straps.
A suitcase contained two revolvers, a semi-automatic pistol, several boxes of ammunition, a pair of black handcuffs and a black silencer body.
Surveillance video captured Stephens earlier attending the offices of the storage company and arranging to rent or lease a storage locker. He provided a false name and phoney identification.
The video depicted the arrival of an unknown male at the storage locker later that same day. Stephens was then seen arriving at the scene.
Stephens was seen helping the unknown male unload seven large suitcase or duffel-type bags from a vehicle and placing them on a wheeled cart or trolley. He wheeled the cart into an elevator and was seen exiting the elevator onto the floor where his storage locker was located.
The video showed him returning to the parking area with the empty cart and leaving in the vehicle with the unknown male.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice David Crossin, who handed down the verdict, noted that while it wasn’t captured on video, it was clear Stephens unloaded the bags into the locker.
The judge said that while it was obvious Stephens physically possessed the bags, there was no direct evidence he knew what the bags contained and no evidence he was told what the bags held.
“There is no direct evidence he opened the bags to view their contents. There is no forensic evidence linking the accused of the bags or any of the items found in the bags.”
The issue at trial, said the judge, was whether the Crown had proven that Stephens knew or was wilfully blind to the fact that the bags contained the guns.
Court heard that the day following the delivery of the bags to the storage locker, Matthew Navas-Rivas, Stephens’ co-accused, arrived at the storage locker carrying a black backpack.
Navas-Rivas, who was shot to death in the summer of 2018 in East Vancouver, was the only person other than Stephens to access the storage locker.
The judge said that on the entirety of the evidence, a “state of mind” arose that gave rise to suspicion the bags contained contraband of some sort, stolen or otherwise.
But there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Stephens suspected the bags contained the firearms to the point he saw a need for further inquiry but chose not to make that inquiry because he wanted to be able to deny the truth, added the judge.
The ruling was given orally in November with a written copy posted Tuesday on the court’s website.
Stephens was sentenced in 2015 to four years in jail for his role in a gang kidnapping planned by associates and members of the Independent Soldiers gang. After receiving credit for time service, his net sentence was 200 days.
In 2013, Navas-Rivas was found guilty of a home invasion in which he held a terrified Vancouver family at gunpoint.
Source: VANCOUVER SUN