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Jason Dix: Framed

Jason Dix

Judge awards Edmonton man $765,000 in damages after he was jailed two years on murder charges that were a frame-up

The judgment in the Jason Dix lawsuit

Police, prosecutor "cloaked in malice" in 'Mr. Big' sting

EDMONTON -- An Edmonton man who spent nearly two years in jail on murder charges that were later dismissed won a lawsuit yesterday against the RCMP and Crown lawyers for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment and breach of rights.

In a scathing decision, an Alberta judge awarded Jason Dix damages of almost $765,000, plus interest.

"The defendants are, quite simply, legally cloaked in malice," wrote Mr. Justice Keith Ritter, who was a Court of Queen's Bench judge when he heard the case.

Mr. Dix's ordeal began with the Oct. 1, 1994, execution-style killings of James Deiter and Tim Orydzuk, whose deaths remain unsolved. The nightmare cost him his marriage, a relationship with his children, steady employment and his reputation.

"He's very pleased with the decision. He, like I, thought there might be a larger amount ordered by way of punitive damages," said his lawyer Hal Veale, who originally asked for $14-million in compensation.

Alberta Justice Minister Dave Hancock, who the judge determined was vicariously liable, said the decision was "disturbing" and that his department needed time to consider whether to mount an appeal.

The Mounties declined comment, saying RCMP managers and lawyers in the federal Justice Department needed time to review the judgment. The judge also held the federal Crown vicariously liable.

Arnold Piragoff, the provincial Crown lawyer who was in charge of the prosecution, did not return phone messages. Judge Ritter held Mr. Piragoff, who is now in private practice, personally liable for $200,000 in punitive damages.

While Mr. Deiter and Mr. Orydzuk were both shot three times in the head at the paper-recycling company where they worked, RCMP initially believed they died accidentally by electrocution. Investigators only realized they had been shot after autopsies had been conducted the next day, when most of the evidence had been destroyed or contaminated.

The RCMP soon zeroed in on Mr. Dix, an industrial scale technician who got to know both men when he installed a scale at their workplace in Sherwood Park, just east of Edmonton.

Despite solid evidence, police later concluded Mr. Deiter -- who was at a bar with Mr. Dix and his co-worker mistress the night before his death -- had been romantically interested in Mr. Dix's girlfriend. They believed this gave Mr. Dix a motive for killing Mr. Deiter, who was supposed to be working alone, and suspected he killed Mr. Orydzuk because he also happened to be at work.

Although his wife and girlfriend accounted for his whereabouts, the RCMP began surveillance and planned undercover operations to draw Mr. Dix into a gang involved in money laundering and drug trafficking. Their efforts included staging a homicide and asking Mr. Dix watch guard outside.

“right to silence is a constitutionally enshrined Charter right” --judge

After the operations, the RCMP concluded Mr. Dix had a criminal mind because he had participated in scenarios he knew to be crimes.

After consultations with Mr. Piragoff, police arrested Mr. Dix on July 10, 1996, and held him in jail for eight days with undercover RCMP officers posing as his cell mates.

Judge Ritter ruled Mr. Dix was not properly housed as a prisoner.

During the 11-hour questioning, Mr. Dix told police 200 times he chose not to speak on advice of his lawyer, but the interrogation continued, involving several lies that the judge found objectionable.

"The right to silence is a constitutionally enshrined Charter right, properly cherished by Canadians, and is not something which it is appropriate or acceptable for the police to ignore once asserted by an individual," Judge Ritter wrote.

At midnight, immediately after the long interrogation, on the advice of Arnold Piragoff, the police brought a frightened Mr. Dix to the scene of the killings, where he again maintained his innocence. The judge dubbed the two-hour trip "the midnight run" and a "macabre adventure" and said the RCMP's conduct was "disturbingly surreal."

“a knowing attempt to mislead the court”

Judge Ritter was also highly critical of former Crown prosecutor Arnold Piragoff, who used a fake letter as evidence to deny Mr. Dix bail. The letter was purportedly written by a friend of Mr. Dix's but actually penned by the RCMP.

It was, Judge Ritter said, "a knowing attempt to mislead the court on a liberty issue."

During trial, in mid-1998, Piragoff eventually had to withdraw after the issue of the fake letter was raised. The prosecutor appointed to replace him soon decided there was no likelihood of a conviction. On Sept. 3, 1998, a judge dismissed all charges against Mr. Dix.

Oct. 2001 Dix v. AG et al In the Jason Dix civil suit in Alberta against the federal and provincial Crowns and numerous police officers for wrongful imprisonment, malicious prosecution and negligent investigation, Justice Ritter of Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench ruled that a publication ban was only necessary in respect of pseudonym names used by the RCMP undercover operators, and any description of the officers themselves.

Alberta man awarded $765,000 for malicious prosecution

EDMONTON - A court in Alberta has awarded more than three-quarters of a million dollars to a man who spent nearly two years in jail for a double murder he didn't commit.

Jason Dix, 37, was accused in 1996 of killing Tim Orydzuk and James Deiter. He was held in custody for 22 months before the charges were dismissed because of a lack of evidence.

He sued the Crown and RCMP for malicious prosecution and false imprisonment. On Monday, Justice Keith Ritter awarded him damages of $764,863 plus interest, with costs to be determined later.

The civil trial lasted for more than four months. Ritter found that police had breached Dix's rights on several occasions.

The 1994 killings of Orydzuk and Deiter remain unsolved.

Both men were shot three times in the head as they worked at a packaging plant in Sherwood Park, east of Edmonton.

Dix ex-lawyer told replacement what to say about Edmonton man's murder case

EDMONTON (CP) - A former prosecutor in the Jason Dix murder trial wrote a letter instructing his replacement what to say when the case was dismissed, Dix's civil lawsuit for malicious prosecution was told Thursday. A memo from Arnold Piragoff urged his replacement, Bill Pinckney, to make it clear it wasn't Piragoff's fault the case eventually collapsed.

"Remember, Bill, it is my reputation on the line, not yours", Piragoff wrote on Aug. 27, 1998, as Pinckney prepared to have murder charges against Dix dismissed.

Three months earlier, Piragoff withdrew from the murder trial following allegations he misrepresented evidence at Dix's bail hearing.

Piragoff wrote in the letter that there could be no suggestion the case collapsed because of any misconduct on his part or that the Crown was proceeding blindly even though there was no evidence to support the case.

The three-page letter was introduced as the defence began its case in the civil lawsuit initiated by Dix. He is suing the RCMP and the provincial government, claiming he was the victim of negligence and malicious prosecution. Pinckney was the defence's opening witness.

Dix spent 22 months in custody after being charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 1, 1994, killings of James Deiter and Tim Orydzuk who worked at a packaging plant in Sherwood Park just east of Edmonton.

RCMP officers initially said the two died of electrocution in an industrial accident. An autopsy two days later showed each was shot three times in the head.

Pinckney said he concluded within six weeks of being assigned to the Dix case that Dix's alibi and unreliable jailhouse informants meant there was no hope of getting a conviction.

He met with relatives of the two dead men, along with key RCMP investigator Cpl. Rick Pasker, three hours before finally shutting the trial down.

Family members said police had told them it was a great case and "Arnie Piragoff doesn't back a loser," according to a memo Pinckney wrote about the meeting.

"They asked, pointedly, how could it go from that to what I was telling them."

Although he didn't record an answer, he did deny Piragoff kept the case going as part of a vendetta with defence lawyer Peter Royal.

An internal review started immediately after Piragoff withdrew, Pinckney said.

Pinckney's memo noted Pasker denied a suggestion the RCMP had been pressured to wrap up an investigation they'd messed up at the beginning by arresting someone.

From Alberta Crown Attorney's site: The Crown withheld information about the identity of a jailhouse informant where they knew, or should have known, that it would cause a conflict of interest with the accused's counsel. Accused sought costs for the expense of hiring a replacement lawyer to cross-examine that witness. HELD: costs granted per s. 24(1) on solicitor-client basis. The existence of a separate civil lawsuit by the accused against the Crown is not a bar to this relief.

Dix needed the money

EDMONTON -- Jason Dix admitted yesterday he knew he shouldn't have taken part in illegal activities being done as part of an RCMP undercover investigation, but needed the money.

The admission came as Dix, 36, was being cross-examined by federal prosecutor Jim Shaw during Day 10 of a civil trial stemming from Dix's $14-million malicious prosecution lawsuit against RCMP and the Crown.

Dix denied Shaw's allegation that it didn't concern him to be involved with a criminal organization which in reality was a bunch of undercover cops using an elaborate operation to try to get Dix to confess to a double murder.

"If I didn't need the money, I wouldn't have got involved with these guys," testified Dix. "I knew what I was involved with wasn't legal and I shouldn't have been involved with it. But the money was a bigger draw than that."

Shaw, who asked Dix several times if he believed the undercover cop who was trying to recruit him into the gang was really a police officer, appeared to be suggesting Dix had no qualms about joining a criminal gang or taking part in any criminal jobs he was enlisted for.

However, Dix maintained he was only paying lip service so he would get paid and would never have crossed the line and committed any type of physical violence.

Dix testified he was paid about $4,500 to do several supposedly crime-connected jobs for the organization.

Court has heard Project Kabaya was a 13-month RCMP undercover operation costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in which police posed as fictitious gang members.

The operation involved Dix meeting a phoney Toronto mobster referred to as "Mr. Big", helping count $1 million in ill-gotten cash and witnessing a staged murder in B.C.

Dix never confessed to the killings and repeatedly told undercover operators he knew nothing about them.

His lawyer, Hal Veale, said in his opening statement that what the RCMP did to Dix in Kabaya is an important component of his claim for damages.

Veale claimed the operation used questionable tactics to turn Dix from a productive, law-abiding citizen into someone who would lie and say he would do anything, even kill, to become a member and reap financial rewards.

Dix sued Feb. 1, 1999, after charges against him were dismissed Sept. 3, 1998, following claims the Crown misrepresented evidence at a bail hearing. He spent 22 months in jail after being charged with the Oct. 1, 1994, execution-style shootings of James Deiter, 24, and Tim Orydzuk, 33, at a Sherwood Park warehouse.