South Peace News
One of the suspects in a gunfight that put the Cadotte Lake School and band office on lockdown Sept. 24 has been denied bail while awaiting his trial.
Chester Eskagon, 20, appeared from prison via CCTV for his bail hearing on Oct. 28.
According to an agreed upon statement of facts, on Sept. 24 at 3:38 p.m. the RCMP received multiple 911 calls about shots fired between two vehicles, a white SUV and a black Ford truck.
Multiple witnesses allege they saw a truck pull up to the Woodland Cree First Nation band office, with Francis Eskagon and her son, Chester, inside. Francis was allegedly driving.
Both Eskagons asked the witnesses to call the RCMP, but the witnesses say they then saw Chester with a black bolt action rifle with a scope tracking the white SUV going by Cadotte Lake School. Witnesses allege the accused then shot the gun at the SUV, which was in front of the school. As a result, both the band office and school were locked down.
The SUV was later set on fire, and the occupant or occupants fled in another truck.
The black Ford truck was located by police behind Francis’s house, and when confronted by Crown prosecutor Alison Magill he alleged Francis was “yelling about crack dealers in the community.”
Francis “Franny” Eskagon is not in custody and appeared in person in court on Oct. 28. However she was asked to stay out of the courtroom during the bail hearing while Chester’s lawyer, Adam Klassen, explained his version of events.
Chester claims via Klassen he and his mother were chased and shot at three times by the SUV before asking for help at the band office.
RCMP say they located spent rounds in the dirt where Eskagon was standing, and a bullet hole in the SUV front fender. Video surveillance obtained by police are consistent with the witness reports.
The Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council Education Authority, which administers the Cadotte Lake School, also posted a statement to Facebook on Sept. 25 about the incident.
“At around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24, after K-6 children had gone home, shots were fired in the community in the area of Cadotte Lake School. A vehicle was also set on fire,” it reads.
“Grades 7-12 were in the school for a volleyball tournament, which included visiting teams from Little Buffalo School. The school staff followed all correct lockdown plans and kept the students safe in the gymnasium. Because the gymnasium has no windows, they were hidden from the suspects outside.”
The message continues.
“Not only are the staff trained to respond to these incidents, but they also make student safety their number one priority. The gym walls are made of concrete brick, and they keep the students safe and secure during a lockdown.”
After the RCMP arrived and began tracking down the suspects, and the situation was under control, students and staff were allowed to leave the school, while Little Buffalo students were able to take the bus home.
At Chester’s bail hearing, the Crown argued he should be kept in jail, both because of the seriousness of his offences, and because he may be likely to intimidate witnesses in the small community. She added Chester’s story did not add up because if he was afraid for his life he might have hid in the band office instead and called 911 himself.
Court heard Chester’s lawyer said the Crown may have difficulty proving the bullet hole came from a bullet fired by him. Klassen argued Chester has never breached the conditions put on him in the past, including a six-month conditional sentence he received in 2019 for impaired driving and flight from a police officer, plus he does not have much of a criminal record. He does have a related 2016 firearms conviction, however.
Lindsay Eskagon also attended court for the bail hearing and offered to let Chester live with her and her family on house arrest until his trial, if he was released on bail.
After hearing from the prosecution and Chester’s lawyer, Judge G.R. Ambrose said he cannot find there are enough grounds to be apprehensive that he may intimidate or coerce any witnesses. He added in his view, secondary grounds is not enough of a basis to deny bail, because Chester doesn’t have a long criminal record and there is no indication he has breached the conditions of his release in the past.
“The real issue is on tertiary grounds,” Judge Ambrose said.
“This is a serious incident. There is a gunfight in Cadotte.”
The judge said the incident is even more serious because it occurred outside a school just as school was letting out for the day.
“That’s a problem,” he said.
Judge Ambrose agreed there is a strong case against Chester, and that if convicted he faces a lengthy period of incarceration.
Chester could get up to 14 years in prison for multiple counts of weapons offences including possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, careless use of a firearm, pointing a firearm, intentionally discharging a firearm, and assault with a weapon.
“I agree with the Crown there are some concerns about the relation of events as Mr. Eskagon relates them,” Judge Ambrose said.
“He asks a witness to call the RCMP but he continues on, and it’s not clear if he was fleeing the white SUV or instead, pursuing it.”
Judge Ambrose said it seems more likely to him there were two groups exchanging gunfire.
As a result he denied his bail.
Chester is also not allowed to have any contact with his mother while incarcerated and awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, Francis faces multiple counts of the same weapons offences as her son, including possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, careless use of a firearm, pointing a firearm, intentionally discharging of a firearm, and assault with a weapon.
Both will appear in court again on Nov. 25.
Sources in the community who wish to remain anonymous say the other occupant or occupants of the SUV may be well-known to the Eskagons, and have not yet been caught.
Chester has two young children. He has worked for Weaver Welding as a pipefitter but was on employment insurance before being arrested.