The man who threatened a Vancouver pizza shop worker last month was out of jail after receiving another previous assault charge. He went on to assault someone else just days later and is accused of another assault this month, Global News has learned.
Juan Serna had been arrested for an assault on June 19, about a month before he threatened to draw a knife on a Fresh Slice pizza employee who refused to give him an entire pie.
He was arrested again on July 19, released without bail, and arrested again on July 21 for another assault.
Cerna remained in jail until Aug. 17, when he pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon in the June 19 incident, uttering threats in the pizza shop incident, and assault in the July 21 incident.
The June 19 assault charge was stayed, a theft charge from the pizza shop incident was stayed, and a weapons charge in the June 21 assault was stayed, court records show.
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He was released again, and less than a week later, on Aug. 23, re-arrested on a new assault charge.
“These are the kind of stories we’re hearing over and over again,” Vancouver police Sgt. Steve Addison said.
“A case like this is not unusual for our officers to see, where we have one person committing a number of crimes over and over again.”
The revelation comes as pressure mounts in British Columbia to find a solution to repeat and chronic offenders amid growing concerns about public safety.
In May, a group of 13 urban mayors urged the province for action on the issue, citing statistics showing 200 chronic offenders were responsible for more than 11,600 police files across the province, while in Vancouver 40 “super-chronic” offenders have an average of 54 convictions each.
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The group also released statistics showing a 75 per cent increase in no-charge assessments by Crown and a 26 per cent increase in stays of proceedings, along with a 20 per cent decrease in guilty judgments.
Earlier this month, Kamloops’ outgoing top RCMP officer said police were essentially handcuffed in dealing with these offenders by federal changes to the criminal code and recent Supreme Court of Canada precedents around bail.
Addison said while police remain focused on public safety, there is little they can do once they hand suspects over to the justice system, save for recommending they be denied bail.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is that when a person is arrested and they enter the court system, it’s really out of our hands,” he said.
“In this case, where we’ve arrested and re-arrested this person four times this summer alone, we will continue to … recommend people remain in custody when they don’t meet those very simple criteria for release.”
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The B.C. government said Thursday a promised report into the issue by health researcher and criminologist Amanda Butler and former Vancouver deputy police chief Doug LePard would be delayed until mid-September due to “extensive public feedback and the complexity of the various issues underlying crime.”
Interim Attorney General Murray Rankin told Global News he was aware of concerns about the issue and had spoken Thursday with the mayors of Kelowna and Victoria about it.
“We acknowledge it’s a serious issue, we acknowledge that steps need to be taken. it’s not passing the buck to say some of this has to do with courts, some of this has to do with the criminal code amendments that the federal government made recently, these things are part of the jigsaw puzzle,” he said.
“The community will not stand for this as a continuing phenomenon, we need to address this and we understand this will require significant root and branch work to achieve.”
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However, Rankin said he would have to wait and see what the report said before the province could move forward on any plans.
In the meantime, Addison said the VPD will continue to respond to calls and make recommendations to the courts.
But he said whatever solution is proposed will need to tackle issues including poverty, drug addiction, homelessness, mental illness and anti-social tendencies.
“There’s not any one solution that’s likely going to solve it,” he said.
“Clearly we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of this problem.”
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