BATTLEFORD – An employee at the casino in North Battleford tipped off Terror Squad street gang members that Ryan Gatzke had money and (marijuana) in his home, court heard. The staff member worked at the casino before Gatzke's murder and after the murder but not the day of the murder, according to SIGA.
After a night out at the casino with his wife on Oct. 18, 2019, Gatzke, 27, was fatally shot in an attempted armed robbery. A young offender convicted in Gatzke’s death, consented in Battleford Court of King’s Bench on Jan. 22, 2024, to be sentenced as an adult.
“A person who worked at the casino, and who knew Isaac Melko and Jacob Ballantyne, told them that Mr. Gatzke had money in his house and that he also had drugs in his house,” Senior Crown Prosecutor Jennifer Schmidt had told the North Battleford Provincial Court in April 2021 at a bail hearing for the young offender.
On Monday, Schmidt asked Justice Heather MacMillan-Brown to lift the ban on publication that has been in place since May 2020, which she granted.
Gatzke had won money at the casino the night he was murdered, court heard in April 2021.
“Not a large sum but some money,” said Schmidt. “It was a fairly good night for them. They had drinks and supper.”
Later that night, Gatzke was asleep beside his pregnant wife in their Battleford home when he woke up to the sound of fumbling. His wife heard the bedroom door open and saw a man with a gun standing in the doorway.
Three Terror Squad gang members high on drugs and alcohol, stood in their bedroom wearing black bandanas. The young offender pointed a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun at Gatzke. Melko had an SKS rifle, and Ballantyne – a high-up “general” in the Terror Squad – had a 9mm handgun.
Charles McLean sat in the getaway vehicle parked by Gatzke’s home, waiting for them. During the drive there, Ballantyne held a 9mm handgun to McLean’s head, telling him to drive, court heard.
The gang members had been given the “green light” from a higher up to rob Gatzke for the benefit of Terror Squad, court heard.
Gatzke grappled with one intruder and was shot. Three shots were fired inside Gatzke’s home. One bullet went into the ceiling.
An autopsy revealed Gatzke had two gunshot wounds, one in his mid-chest and one in his abdomen, court heard. His right artery was severed, which was the most significant injury.
As the three fled the house in the botched robbery, the young offender stepped on Gatzke’s body as he lay on the floor dying, Schmidt told the court in April 2021.
Deterrence needs to be an important aspect of sentencing the young offender, said Schmidt.
“The gang problem in this city is huge. The kind of terror these gangsters put members of the community under; you can’t walk the streets in North Battleford and not see members of Terror Squad.
“There needs to be a deterrence in our community,” she reiterated.
Justice MacMillan-Brown reserved her decision on how many years to sentence the young offender. A conference call will be held on Jan. 29 to set a date.
The Crown is seeking a 10-year prison sentence, whereas defence counsel Katherine Pocha argued for eight years.
With credit for time served while waiting for trial, the young offender has five-and-a-half years credit to be taken off of his sentence.
Young offender the shooter: Crown
The young offender, who was 17 years and seven months old at the time of Gatzke's murder, was the shooter, Schmidt told the court.
“He went in there and he was prepared to shoot and he did, and he killed someone. He was principal in the act of robbing Gatzke and he was principal in shooting and killing him.”
The youth’s criminal record, a Pre-Sentence Report, a Gladue Report, and eight victim impact statements were entered into the court during his sentencing hearing on Jan. 22. A psychiatrist who assessed the young offender appeared by telephone.
He is low functioning intellectually, and displays daredevil, risk-taking tendencies, court heard. He likely has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), according to his PSR and Gladue reports. He is, however, street smart, Schmidt told the court.
He quit school when he was 13, started drinking and smoking marijuana when he was 12, and then started taking cocaine.
He puts Terror Squad above everything else in his life. When he was remanded on the murder charge, he showed his gang tattoo to jail staff and asked to be put into the Terror Squad wing, said Schmidt.
“He’s entrenched in the gang and has no motivation to change.”
Once in jail, he got another tattoo and “double-downed” on his gang identity.
“He wants to be a gangster and wants to get some economy out of it,” said Schmidt.
During his bail hearing in April 2021, court heard that the young offender was a member of the Terror Squad since he was nine years old.
He lacks remorse, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions, has no insight into his crimes, and is a high-risk to re-offend, argued Schmidt during the Jan. 22 sentencing hearing.
At the time of Gatzke’s shooting death in October 2019, the young offender had been ordered by the court not to possess firearms and was unlawfully at large on charges from two months prior, court heard.
On Aug. 23, 2019, Battlefords RCMP had responded to four shots fired at a home on 108 Street in what appeared to be an incident against rival gang West Side Outlawz. The next day, Meadow Lake RCMP responded to shots fired at a home. The young offender was arrested in both incidents and released from custody, court heard during his bail hearing in April 2021.
Young offender victim of inter-generational trauma: Defence
Pocha told the court that her client was from Flying Dust First Nation near Meadow Lake. Growing up, he liked to hunt with his grandfather and spend time with his grandparents.
“He was happy-go-lucky and liked to make people laugh.”
Both sets of his grandparents attended Residential School, including one that was notorious for abuse.
His mother grew up with alcoholic parents and didn’t know how to love, Pocha told the court. There was domestic violence in their family home and his father walked out on them when he was about five or six years old. About two years ago his father came back into the young offender’s life.
In 2015, the young offender and his family moved to North Battleford. He became rebellious so his mother reached out to the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, who recommended that she place him in Eagle’s Nest, a group home.
“He felt abandoned,” said Pocha.
At the group home, he attempted suicide.
His criminal involvement began when he was living at Eagle’s Nest, Pocha told the court.
“He has been in institutions since he was 13, in and out.”
While at the youth centre on remand, his cell mate found him unresponsive in their cell.
She said while in custody, no programming was ever offered to him.
“He spent 21 hours a day in his cell since he was 17.”
Pocha pointed out that jails put people in the gang units even if they only have a lose gang affiliation.
She said the Gladue Report reveals his mother drank when she was pregnant with him, and FAS is related to ASPD.
The young offender’s last violent incident in jail was in November 2023 and as he gets older, he gains more insight and isn’t as hot-headed, said Pocha.
“He is growing up. He is starting to manage his anger.”
She said he wants to make changes to his life but doesn’t know how.
Ryan Gatzke was excited for birth of first child: Family
Approximately 10 of Gatzke’s family members were in the gallery for the young offender’s sentencing hearing Jan. 22. This was the fourth time June Gatzky read her victim impact statement to the court. She has attended almost all of the court appearances of the four convicted.
“My life has changed drastically. There is a huge void in my life without Ryan.”
She recounted the agony of Ryan Gatzke’s brother’s phone call to their mom telling her that Ryan had been shot. And the cries and screams when they were told at the hospital that Ryan didn’t make it.
“I didn’t want to believe it,” said June Gatzky. “He was taken away in the blink of an eye.”
She said she misses her daily conversations with him, his text messages, his hugs, and his laughter.
Ryan Gatzke’s aunt described him as intelligent, kind-hearted, and a hard-working family man who was excited about the birth of his first child. He had bought a home and recently started his own roofing business with his brother.
“He loved to laugh, tease and joke around,” she said, adding that he had chosen to make something of his life.
His daughter was born after his murder and she will never feel the love he had for her, said his aunt.
She told the court that the young offender didn’t take “a nobody," but rather, he took a man with goals.
“We lost Ryan for something as worthless as money,” she said.
When another one of Ryan Gatzke’s aunts read her victim impact statement to the court, she said, “I hate North Battleford because it is filled with crime.”
Three others sentenced
Three other people have been sentenced in Gatzke’s murder.
In June 2023, Jacob Ballantyne was sentenced to eight years in prison after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Ballantyne, from Edam, was originally charged with second-degree murder.
In February 2023, Isaac Melko was sentenced to 12 years. Melko, from North Battleford, was charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of manslaughter.
In March 2022, Charles McLean pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison.
This story by SASKTODAY first published on Jan. 23, 2024.
Story updated to say that the Casino staff member worked at the casino before the murder and after the murder but not the day of the murder.
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