Police Intimidation Resisted, Man Changes National Surveillance PolicyBy: Carlton Purvis, Published on Feb 11, 2014
A man changed nationwide police policy by resisting intimidation from the local police after he uncovered they had set up illegal surveillance on his property.
We spoke in depth with the man, Buck Addams (formerly Dion Nordick) [link no longer available] who found two trail cams watching his house that not only contained images of his comings and goings, but hundreds of evidence photos and crime scenes. Instead of turning the equipment back over to police, he obtained a lawyer. The result of the case was a law requiring Canadian authorities to change how they managed surveillance evidence.
Near the end of 2010, Addams moved into a house in, Grand Forks, British Columbia, that had been abandoned. The property owner, a friend of his, cut him a deal: If he got the property back to livable conditions, then he could live there for reduced rent. They previous tenant was a suspected drug dealer and left the place trashed. Addams moved in and went from paying $1200 rent to $700.
Six months later, he turned the place around. His handiwork didn't go unnoticed by his girlfriend's father, the mayor, and he was invited to come up for a weekend to help do work on a property the father owned. His work didn't go unnoticed by police either.
"When I get [back home] there's a warrant on the door with a RCMP business card," he said. Without going in the house he showed it to his girlfriend and she suggested he call a lawyer before he did anything else. The warrant was for things like timers, tanks and beakers. Through the window of the house he could see it had been ransacked.
It was almost an hour before he went inside. Every drawer in the house had been opened and dumped on the floor, yet they hadn't taken anything related to the warrant. All of his graffiti stencils were gone along with $850 worth of spray paint.
Addams who also does graphic design for local bands had a collection of World War II books that he used for drawing ideas. These books were laid across his couch, along with a technical manual for an AK-47. His collection of Transformers, which he had displayed on a shelf in their humanoid form, had been searched, some put back in their vehicle forms.
He admits he was "freaked out" when he called the number on the business card. No one would give him any answers about why his place has been tossed. The sergeant in charge of the case blew him off.
Newspaper stories later that week told of how police had solved a major case, declaring they had caught "the Grand Forks graffiti artist" and telling people to file claims if their businesses had been vandalized using his stencils. Addams however said he wasn't doing stencils around Grand Forks, but mostly making them for other people. And this still did not explain why they entered his house with a warrant looking for equipment to make drugs.
Through friends around town and at various newspapers, he found out that the police were looking to bust the previous tenant of the house. They thought he'd moved back in.
"Mail was going to [the house] and the power was back on, so they thought it was him," Addams said.
He still hadn't been arrested, but he was worried about what he could be charged with. The police still refused to give him any information about the case, nor were they willing to return his art supplies. He called the police sergeant again to try and work out a deal, suggesting he would teach kids art at a local center, in exchange for dropping any charges. It didn't work.
Later, his girlfriend called.
"I've been thinking a lot about you and how screwed over you're feeling and maybe you should come stay with me for the night. I'd rather have you hanging out here then have to worry about you," he recalls her saying.
His house was down a road surrounded by trees that terminates at a cul-de-sac. It's a rural area, and it's common to see wildlife on the tree line so he though it was the reflection of a deer's eyes the when he saw a blue-green flash up ahead as they pulled away.
"I told her to slow down. It looked like Wall-E was up there. As I got closer I see that it's a Bushnell hunting camera," he said. His first thought was that someone mistook him for the former tenant and was keeping surveillance on him to eventually rob him.
He saw a similar flash when he had been walking his dog behind the house a few nights before. He had her drive back to the house to the spot where he let the dog out. Strapped to a tree was a second camera.
"We took them to her house and we plunked the [SD cards] in there and the first one … had pictures of my friends [coming over], reporters from the newspapers [from when the graffiti story first broke], me taking the dog out for a leak, having a smoke. A deer. A bird," he said.
It also revealed who had been watching.
"The first couple frames were the police attaching it," he said. The images are time-stamped and suggest the cameras were installed June 14th at three in the morning -- the day after the raid on his house.
The camera was aiming right at his badge number," he said. "I put the next one it and it had three folders on it. They had pictures of friends coming over animals, but the next file was 120 pictures of numerous cases from drug busts to accidents to found bodies to women in next to nothing beaten black and blue." He found another 120 crime scene photos in a separate folder on the card.
His girlfriend screamed. He called his father looking for advice, but the best advice father gave him was a reminder that tampering with evidence is a lengthy prison term.
Addams took the cameras downtown to a look for a lawyer. He says he walked into "a law office where defense attorneys hang out" and asked to speak to whatever lawyer hated cops the most.
A lawyer named Jesse Gelber, calling the find "defense lawyer gold" took the case --- for free.
He and Gelber decided to store the cameras in Gelber's office in another jurisdiction. Gelber sent a letter to the authorities saying if they ever set foot on those coordinates again without a warrant they'd be facing a civil suit. He also said if there was a proper warrant for the cameras that the authorities produce it.
"The chance of police getting a warrant for a lawyer's office is almost impossible," Addams said. "Then I was instructed not to have anymore contact with the police, but the police couldn't help themselves."
They were able to find out that the original warrant (to toss the house) was for what police thought was a marijuana growing operation.
Harassed and Intimidated
Addams says he was pulled over every time he drove or rode with someone in the city. Cops would stop him on his bike for helmet violations, and they would be parked outside stores when he shopped.
"They said, 'We know you have the cameras' and I said 'Why don't you just roll my house again,'" he said. "It turned out to be a life from hell for me so I moved to Nelson."
He didn't have anyone to go to about the harassment so his lawyer suggested they take it to the media. Addams said at that point he didn't want to be on the news and wanted the whole thing to go away, but he still hadn't been charged with anything, was still being harassed if he came into town and still had not been told why his house was raided in the first place.
The media jumped on the story. And again Addams has reporters coming to his door back-to-back for interviews. At first he says the police tried to spin things to "make it look like I was an evil Internet genius who resurrected dead cards that were erased."
The police claimed they'd put the cameras outside of his property and when they went back to get them, they were gone and Addams had stolen them.
"If we had just given the cameras back [without the media blitz] they could say it never happened. So we needed the media thing to happen. So it happened. And it also changed Canadian history," he said.
Giving the Cameras Back
Addams eventually decided that he didn't want his past drug through the courts in a civil suit and wanted the harassment and the media attention to go away. After talking with his lawyer, he decided to give the cameras back. But he knew the impact his could have.
"This was only the second time in Canadian history where evidence had been kept away from the Crown," he said. "The only other time was in the Paul Bernardo case."
When he gave the cameras back, he signed a confidentiality agreement not to tell who any the people in the photos were and to destroy any copies he'd made of the cards. The cameras were officially returned during a meeting between is lawyer and the RCMP on November 22, 2011. He said he never made copies.
In the end, the police never produced a warrant for the cameras and Addams was never charged with any crime.
New Policy Enacted
The agency does not publish it's policies, but as a result of the case, the RCMP now has a policy that requires brand new memory cards to be used, according to an RCMP media spokesperson.
"What we’re doing is only new memory cards are being installed in instances surveillance equipment is being installed in locations where there is an opportunity when someone other than an RCMP officer could come in possession of those cameras," the RCMP told the Nelson Star back in 2011.
Chapters of the manual which outlines RCMP best practices can be obtained through FOIA.