How false accusations by drug addict, RCMP in Sundre wild horse case destroyed lives

Jason Nixon with his daughter Chyanne, 4 outside of Calgary Courts Centre in Calgary, Alberta on April 27, 2011was exonerated after the crown withdrew charges that Nixon shot a horse near Sundre, Alberta. Photograph by: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald


Three men charged with the slaying of a wild, pregnant horse near Sundre were completely exonerated in provincial court Wednesday morning.

Crown prosecutor Gord Haight told court that new information disclosed by the defence has led him to “withdraw all charges” against Jason Nixon, the general manager at Mountain Aire Lodge, as well as against Earl Anderson and Gary Cape. Charges against Nixon’s 14-year-old son, Markus, are expected to be withdrawn shortly.

“I feel like an 800-pound weight has been lifted off my shoulders, but I don’t think I will ever fully recover from this travesty of justice that has been perpetrated against me and my family,” said Nixon, 30, who was running the Mustard Seed Street Ministry’s program at the lodge near Sundre, where people battling addictions and homelessness can reform their lives and learn new skills by helping to run the lodge, restaurant, campgrounds and other businesses.

The new evidence revealed recently not only proves Nixon and the three co-accused are innocent of the heinous charges they were accused of, but has exposed the misconduct of the RCMP and its eagerness to believe an outrageous story dreamed up by David Goertz, a longtime crack and crystal meth addict seeking a $25,000 reward over the reputation of a law-abiding family man running a Christian ministry.

“This entire episode has been a complete nightmare for me and my family,” added Nixon, who was surrounded by his extended family, including his wife Tiffany, several of his five brothers and his father, Pat Nixon, an Order of Canada recipient and the founder and former longtime president of the Mustard Seed Street Ministry, until he was recently let go from his life’s work.

Nixon, Anderson and Cape, along with Nixon’s then 12-year-old son were charged in January 2010 with wilfully killing cattle and careless use of a firearm in connection with the death of a pregnant horse in April of 2009.

The story made the front pages of newspapers across Canada and even CNN. It led to Nixon and his co-accused receiving hate messages from across North America — including death threats against Nixon’s four-year-old twins — losing his job, his home and costing him $100,000 in legal bills that every member of his family and some friends have pitched in to help pay.

“And that’s just the superficial stuff,” explains Nixon.

New evidence brought forward by four hunters has exonerated Nixon, his son, Markus, Anderson and Cape — two former homeless men who had sobered up and worked at the lodge for some time.

One of those hunters is Justin Goodrich, 21, who along with his friends Peter, Adam and Noel came upon a dead horse lying in the middle of the road about one kilometre outside of Mountain Aire Lodge.

“It was the opening weekend of bear hunting season, almost two years ago exactly,” recalls Goodrich, an industrial firefighter who was reached at his work site north of Little Smoky, 330 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

“We were driving down the hill and we saw the horse was at the bottom of the cliff. It was really fresh. It was still warm and no rigor mortis had set in,” recalls Goodrich.

The avid outdoorsmen checked to make sure there were no bullet wounds in the horse, since there have been numerous shootings of wild horses in the area for 15 years, something The Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS) put out a $25,000 reward for, seeking information leading to a conviction in the case.

“The horse was pregnant,” said Goodrich who took a photo of the dead mare. “We think that maybe she tried to give birth, lost her footing and once you go down that cliff, there’s no going back, it’s a sheer fall.

“My buddy Adam is training to be a wildlife biologist and he decided to cut it open to try to save the baby, but it was too late or the fall killed the baby,” explains Goodrich.

The men then tried to move the horse off the road, but she was too heavy, so they inched her as close to the cliff wall as they could and drove off.

Goodrich isn’t sure of the time, but he thinks it was about 7:30 or 8 p.m. and that it would be getting dark soon.

Maybe half an hour to an hour later, Nixon, his then 12-year-old son, Markus, Anderson, Cape and David Goertz, a longtime drug addict and resident of the rehab program, were driving down the road. When they came around the corner they had to stop rather suddenly to avoid hitting the horse.

Goertz, who had relapsed back into drug use and was no longer living at the Lodge, later went to the RCMP saying that he witnessed Nixon shooting the horse, a story that is now viewed clearly as a fabrication, motivated by the $25,000 reward money.

“It was a really gruesome scene,” recalls Nixon, a gentle giant of a man who stands 6’8” with size 18 feet. “The insides of the horse were outside of its belly as well as a baby foal. It looked like the horse had blown up.

“We couldn’t understand what happened. We thought maybe because she was pregnant that she had burst when she fell off the cliff.”

Everyone in the vehicle recognized it would be too dangerous to leave the horse there, since there are no lights on the road and a driver might swerve to avoid the horse at the last second and drop off the far side of the narrow gravel road, which is a sheer vertical drop of about 30 metres.

“I sent two guys further up the hill to warn drivers to be careful.”

Nixon, Anderson and Markus, who was crying at the sight of the bloody scene, went back to the lodge to drop off the upset boy and get a Bobcat to push the horse down the cliff.

“Even knowing what I know now, how devastating this has been to my life and family, I would still have moved that horse,” explains Nixon, “because I never would have been able to live with myself if a truck full of kids died that night.”

Standing on the road Tuesday it’s clear that Nixon made the right choice. The road is narrow, unlit and the fall off the side is almost a completely vertical plunge.

About nine months after he moved the horse, Nixon was at his home on Mountain Aire property when he got a call from Anderson telling him he had just been arrested for “killing a cow.”

Nixon opened his front door and his home was surrounded by 10 RCMP officers from three different detachments, some with their guns drawn and some of whom he once considered close friends.

“One woman officer was swearing at me, telling me to ‘get down you big F-ing retard.’

“I was born with arrhythmia and I was very afraid they would Taser me, so I laid down on the ground.”

Nixon was handcuffed in front of his frightened children, then just two-years-old, driven the 40 minutes to the Sundre RCMP station and charged with unlawfully killing cattle.

One officer he knew quite well, whispered in his ear nodding toward RCMP officers from Didsbury and Edmonton and said, “‘if I were you I’d get a lawyer and not say a thing to these assholes.” Nixon heeded his advice.

Ironically, just weeks prior to his arrest, Nixon received a letter of commendation from the RCMP for the countless times Nixon and Mountain Aire Lodge (MAL) staff helped the RCMP and the community with search and rescue, first aid and dead animal removal.

“Since taking over MAL, The Mustard Seed has worked to revitalize the business, clean the property up, add services and ultimately bring tourists and further stability into the area,” wrote Sgt. Percy Leipnitz with the Sundre RCMP.

“MAL staff and clients have assisted in many important operations in our region over the past few years, and have contributed to making this district a better, safer one for those who live, work and visit the Forestry Reserve …” states the letter.

Nixon says not only did he lose his job running the program, but so did Anderson and Cape, new Christians who had remained sober for a long while and were doing so well.

Willie deWit, Nixon’s lawyer said wrongful conviction inquiries have repeatedly shown how police get tunnel vision when they want to get a conviction at all cost.

“They start eliminating anything that goes against guilt and just take into consideration things that go toward guilt. We see that all the time and they don’t seem to be learning that lesson,” said deWit.

“You’d think, especially if you’ve got a person like Jason Nixon — a top-notch citizen — and then the guy against him is a crackhead that’s come forward to collect a reward, I mean, geez, right then you’d think the police would say, ‘hey, wait a minute,’” said deWit.

RCMP spokesperson, Sgt. Patrick Webb said Wednesday that the RCMP is investigating Goertz to “determine whether there was a deliberate attempt to accuse someone of something that never happened.”

Going into debt, having his reputation destroyed, having the ministry he built shut down, shattering Markus’ trust of police, losing his home and his job are not all the Nixon’s have lost.

“It’s deeper,” says Nixon. “Emotionally, I was a very trusting person prior to this, now I have troubles trusting outside of my family group. I used to view police very favourably, now I fear them.

“I feel humiliated. There were months where I didn’t feel I could walk around in town. Markus was teased in school.

“No matter what I do for the rest of my life, when people Google my name, its going to follow me the rest of my life. Once you’ve rung that bell you can’t unring it.”

But through it all, Nixon forgives Goertz and the others who have treated him so badly. On Good Friday he reflected on how his Lord, Jesus Christ was betrayed, wrongly accused, and crucified for the sins of others.

“I feel very betrayed and hurt by David (Goertz),” says Nixon. “I really showed him a lot of love, but that’s what addiction does. It’s so destructive,” he adds as he rubs the nose of his horse, Tank, on his rented acreage near Sundre.

“Through this all, I’ve really learned who my real friends are and just what a total, total blessing my family is and how important my faith is. Jesus never left my side. I know He has a plan for my life I just hope it doesn’t include this much pain. But we did the right thing that night. We may have saved some lives. That’s a comfort.”

Licia Corbella is a columnist and editorial page editor.

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reprinted from Calgary Herald | Global News story


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