Police conducted a series of early morning raids in Toronto and Windsor on Thursday in a crackdown on a gang operating out of an apartment complex linked to the video that allegedly shows Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.
Nineteen people were arrested in Toronto and nine in Windsor on Thursday.
To date, 43 people have been arrested in the investigation, which extended to Windsor and Edmonton. Police have seized 40 guns, more than $3-million worth of narcotics and $572,000 in cash.
The raids were the culmination of a year-long investigation into the Dixon City Bloods, which police say wields control over a portion of Dixon Road in northwest Toronto. Members have been involved in trafficking firearms and drugs as well as murders and attempted murders.
Police Chief Bill Blair declined to answer several questions on whether the investigation uncovered any information related to the alleged video or the mayor.
Early in the morning, dozens of officers descended on 320 Dixon Rd. A uniformed officer was later seen standing guard in the building’s lobby.
“This has got nothing to do with Rob Ford,” Sergeant Chris Laush told residents. “This is guns and gangs.”
At about 7:45 a.m. ET, a young man was led out of a neighbouring building at 330 Dixon Rd. in handcuffs and driven away in a police cruiser. About 15 minutes later, a woman was also escorted from that building in handcuffs. The woman, who appeared to be middle-aged and wearing a dark head covering, was led by officers into an awaiting police cruiser.
At least a dozen armed officers entered 340 Dixon Rd. at 8:30 a.m. and headed toward one of the stairways. Sgt. Laush said raids were conducted at several other buildings in the cluster of high-rises on Dixon Road, namely 370, 380 and 390 Dixon.
Anthony Smith, a 21-year-old who was slain by gunfire in downtown Toronto on March 28, previously lived at 340 Dixon Rd. He was in a photograph that appears to show him posing with Mr. Ford.
Police raided the home of Mohammed Khattak – another of the men from the photo – on Thursday morning. Mr. Khattak was injured in the shooting that killed Mr. Smith.
Neighbours near Mercury Road, on a quiet suburban street in north Etobicoke, say they woke up to a large bang and watched as police stormed into the house and emerged with folders. The home was left with broken glass and a bent door frame around the front entrance.
Mr. Khattak has been living with his parents on Mercury Road for several months. They declined to speak with journalists.
Amina Allaoui, a resident on the 17th floor of 320 Dixon Rd., said it doesn’t appear as if police targeted any apartments on her floor. The 17th floor had been the scene of a shooting on May 21, when a gunfight erupted in the hallway around 4 a.m. and a man was wounded. A bullet also pierced the front door of an elderly woman’s apartment.
The May incident was not connected to the video, Toronto police have previously told The Globe and Mail. But it’s believed the video may have been in an apartment on the 17th floor at some point, according to a tip received by one of the mayor’s aides, a city-hall source has said.
Ms. Allaoui welcomed Thursday’s police raids at the two clusters of condo towers on Dixon Road. Pockets of Dixon have become a sanctuary for gangs, guns and drugs in recent years. Condo owners such as Ms. Allaoui want police to address the neighbourhood’s crime problems.
“This is good action,” said the mother of two young boys. “They took a lot of people who were smoking and using drugs.”
Klaudia Kot was still asleep when she heard a loud noise at her fourth-floor apartment at 320 Dixon Rd. “They shoot something at the house – boom!” she said.
Ms. Kot, who described herself as a refugee from Poland and who has lived there for about four months, said the next thing she knew, about 10 armed officers were in her apartment and walking into her bedroom. “They took my husband to the floor – cuffs – they didn’t talk, nothing.”
Ms. Kot said her husband was handcuffed for about 20 minutes before another officer arrived and explained they had been looking for someone else. “The kids were crying. They were scared,” she said.
Ms. Kot’s doorknob was left smashed and part of her wooden door broken. Inside, she said the closet door and her bedroom doors had been ripped out. “They came here. They just broke the door. The wrong person. They just say ‘sorry,’ and that’s it.”
Hame Ramsumeer, who lives on the 12th floor of 320 Dixon Rd., said he awoke to the sound of a sledgehammer breaking down a door down the hall from him. The lock on that apartment had its lock torn out and part of the wooden door was broken in. Several white plastic handcuffs were littered on the floor outside the apartment.
Mr. Ramsumeer said the apartment is occupied by a young woman, her mother and child.
“Over all, this building is a ghetto. Totally a ghetto,” he said.
Police officers were seen removing a number of items wrapped in cardboard along with some boxes from 330 Dixon Rd.
Two Toronto Star reporters say they saw the alleged crack video in the parking lot of the Dixon Road apartment complex. Drug dealers reportedly provided the photo showing Mr. Smith and Mr. Khattak to the newspaper and Gawker, a U.S. website, in an apparent effort to prove their bona fides before they attempted to sell them the video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine.
Mr. Ford gave brief statements to reporters before heading to a third day of council.
“My cable is out, I know as much as you guys know,” he said. “I got into the car this morning, reporters were at my house. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about until I got into the car. I haven’t talked to the chief.”
“That’s great work,” he later said of the sweep. “I support the police 100 per cent. That’s what they have to do.”
Mr. Ford said the chief of police has not spoken to him, but a spokesman for the force has briefed staff. Mr. Ford said it is not unusual for the mayor not to be briefed on police activity, even in the case of such a major operation.
Asked if he is under investigation, the mayor said: “That’s news to me. They can investigate me all they want. I don’t do anything wrong.”
Mr. Ford previously stated that no such video exists and said he does not use crack cocaine.
Windsor Police’s Sergeant Matthew D'Asti said he was not surprised to hear Mr. Ford was in the dark about the morning raids. “Operational matters aren’t things that are disclosed to the mayor,” he said. “It’s not something we would routinely do.”
While Eddie Francis was not given advance notice of the sweep as Windsor’s mayor, he said he was given a heads-up as chair of the city’s police services board because the raid constituted a “significant event.”
Mr. Francis, who praised the agencies involved in Project Traveller, would not say when he was notified nor what he was told.
The raids were part of a co-ordinated effort by several police forces dubbed Project Traveller. Police officers from 17 agencies executed 39 search warrants in Toronto and Windsor.
At least one search warrant used in the Toronto raids was dated May 31.
The raids began shortly after 5 a.m., and involved officers from Peel, Durham, York, Halton, Windsor and the Ontario Provincial Police.
With reports from Renata D’Aliesio, Elizabeth Church and Kathryn Blaze Carlson