Two men have been charged with murder in connection with a deadly shooting that police believe was a case of mistaken identity – a killing that prompted calls to change how convicts with gang associations are housed once they’re released.
Rajinder (Raj) Singh Soomel, 35, was shot dead in September 2009 at a halfway house in Vancouver in what police described at the time as a gang-related shooting.
Investigators later said they believed another man who was also living at the halfway house, and not Soomel, was the intended target.
Colin Stewart, 32, of Surrey and Kevin Jones, 35, of Vancouver were arrested and charged with first-degree murder last Friday.
“Investigators with the [Vancouver police] homicide unit determined that Raj Soomel fell victim to a gang-related shooting gone wrong,” Vancouver police Inspector Laurence Rankin said at a news conference on Monday.
“Mr. Soomel was not the intended victim and was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the gunman came looking for another target.”
Rankin said investigators believe the intended target was Randy Naicker, 35, who was also living at the halfway house at the time.
Naicker, who investigators have said “was known to police and had gang connections,” was killed in a shooting in Port Moody, east of Vancouver, in June 2012.
Rankin said police warned Naicker that his life could be in danger. He declined to say whether Naicker’s murder was directly linked to the 2009 shooting that killed Soomel.
Soomel’s death led Vancouver’s mayor to say people who could be targeted by gangs shouldn’t be kept in communities near children.
The B.C. Borstal Association, which runs the halfway house where the shooting occurred, said it would no longer accept criminals with gang ties. A spokesperson for the association could not be immediately reached on Monday.
Soomel was sentenced in 2008 to three years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted murder. He was accused of plotting to kill a man who had been a Crown witness at his brother’s murder trial and was expected to be a Crown witness again.
A written decision from his sentencing said Soomel was targeted by an undercover police investigation in which he was brought into a fictitious criminal organization. During the undercover operation, Soomel expressed a desire to kill the witness.
The court heard that Soomel had no criminal record. He was shot in 2000 by someone who was looking for his brother, and the judge said the shooting had a long-lasting traumatic effect on Soomel.
At sentencing, the judge said Soomel appeared to be already on the road to rehabilitation, describing him as an accomplished, intelligent man who “obviously is a good friend, a good father with potential to be a strong, contributing citizen.”