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'I'm not going to jail. I'm going in the ground,' court hears in 911 call as St. John's standoff case begins

Jason Earle, 25, waits for his trial to begin in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's Tuesday morning. Earle is facing a number of charges related to a standoff with police in the west end of the city in September 2016.
Jason Earle, 25, waits for his trial to begin in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's Tuesday morning. Earle is facing a number of charges related to a standoff with police in the west end of the city in September 2016. - Tara Bradbury

Jason Earle charged with several firearms offences, assault, making threats

The call comes in to police just after 1 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2016.

"There's a man in distress," the voice on the phone reports. "I think he's armed and very dangerous. I think he's after firing shots through the windows. I think he's going to hurt people."

Over the next half hour, the phone line between the RNC communications centre and a home on Barachois Street, in the west end of St. John's, stays open. On one end, civilian operator Ted Murphy speaks in a soft, measured voice, attempting to find out what is happening and relay it to officers who are en route to the scene. On the other end is chaos.

Jason Earle, then 22, is inside the home with his father, Billy Earle, and has what is alleged to be a sawed-off automatic weapon with plenty of ammunition. It's Jason who reportedly makes the call. Billy soon takes it over.

"He's agitated. He was at the hospital this morning," Billy tells Murphy, identifying himself as Jason's father.

"The stuff that he told me, is that actually going on there?" Murphy asks.

"Yep," Billy replies, asking him to please advise the officers not to come to the door of the home when they arrive. Jason is "very volatile," Billy explains. He is also wearing a bulletproof vest.

Jason Earle in the dock on Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court before his trial began Monday.
Jason Earle in the dock on Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court before his trial began Monday.

Billy's voice is notably calm as he alternates between answering the operator's questions and speaking to his son, pleading with him to sit down and put the gun away. Another voice, reportedly Jason's, is heard yelling in the background, telling someone to get out before he shoots them.

"I can't go another day like this! I'll shoot myself! You don't understand what I go through!" the person yells. "I'm not going to hospital because they don't help me, you know that!"

"Oh Jesus, I'm ready to puke," Billy tells Murphy at one point.

Outside the residence, RNC officers arrive. While some take cover in front of the home, others block the street to traffic and go around to the back doors of neighbours' houses, advising people to stay inside and away from windows. The officers hear over their radios that the suspect is threatening to shoot them.

"There was some discussion as to whether or not we were going to vacate houses," Sgt. Doug Day, a 30-year veteran of the RNC, would later testify in Supreme Court, saying police eventually decided it was too risky for people to be out in the open.

There's the popping sound of what officers believe to be a gun, coming from the rear of the home.

"I heard something crash. What was that?" Murphy asks Billy on the phone, who says the gun his son is holding had gone off.

"Was it an accidental discharge?" Murphy asks.

"No," Billy replies.

Minutes later, the voice said to be Jason's speaks directly into the phone.

"I'll shoot you," he says.

He calls police names and says he's not afraid to die.

Murphy tells him it doesn't have to be that way, and points out that a stray bullet could end up anywhere, even potentially hurting a child on the street. He asks if they can find a middle ground.

"I got a gun just like you guys got. Just as powerful," the voice says. "This is what's going to happen, OK? They're going to come in, I'm going to shoot them, they're going to shoot back, I'm going to die.

"I'm not going to jail. I'm going in the ground."

Outside, officers hear another shot and the sound of what they believe to be a bullet ricocheting off the pavement within 25 feet of them. Not long after that, the front door of the home opens and a gun is thrown out, landing in the driveway.

Officers see two men come out of the house, grappling with each other.

"It appeared Jason was trying to reach the firearm, and (Billy) was restraining him," RNC Sgt. Scott Harris would later tell the court.

When the men fall to the ground, police close in, arresting Jason as his father restrains him from behind. When asked to show his hands, Jason allegedly shows his two middle fingers instead, and kicks an officer.

Once he's handcuffed and sitting in the back of a police cruiser, three officers go inside the home. There are casings on the floor of the porch and kitchen, and what looks to be a bullet hole and smashed glass in the patio door. A bulletproof vest is on a living room chair.

Upstairs, there's a security camera with a view of the front of the house.

Those details were relayed in court Tuesday morning by witnesses and a recording of the 911 call made that day, as the trial of Jason Earle, now 25, got underway. Earle, who sat silently in the dock taking in the proceedings, is charged with unauthorized possession of a firearm, unlawfully possessing a prohibited firearm with access to ammunition, uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm, assaulting a police officer and unlawfully discharging a firearm while being reckless toward the life of another person. He has pleaded not guilty.

Billy spoke to reporters shortly after Jason's arrest, insisting his son never meant to shoot at officers. Billy said he had disarmed Jason and thrown the gun out the door after shots were fired in the house and after Jason had pointed the gun toward himself.

Billy, who has had his own experiences when it comes to a standoff with police, has spoken publicly over the past few years about his belief that police need more training when it comes to responding to mental-health calls. He has spoken of his concern for Jason, whom he says has a mental illness. Jason had visited the Waterford hospital hours before the standoff began, Billy said.

The Barachois Street incident wasn't Jason's last alleged standoff with police: two months ago he was arrested and charged with uttering threats, assault with a weapon, firearm offences and breaches of court orders in connection with an incident on Kennedy Road in St. John's. Police reportedly spent about an hour and a half outside the home with weapons drawn, speaking to Jason through an open window. Jason is said to have given himself up and was taken to hospital. Those charges have yet to make their way through the courts.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Related stories:

Bail hearing for man charged after standoff set over

Man allegedly involved in Kennedy Road standoff faces nine charges

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