April 21st, 2024

Man banned from riding transit buses

By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on February 28, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

A Lethbridge man has been banned from riding city transit buses for a year while he’s on probation for committing numerous offences last year and 2022.
At about 10:30 a.m. on June 5, 2023 Richard Paul Paniec entered a bus but told the driver he didn’t have any money. The 70-year-old man refused to get off the bus and became aggressive toward the driver, who had dealt with Paniec before.
The driver was forced to return to the “station” so authorities could deal with Paniec, and the other passengers were transferred to another bus.
Paniec was arrested and released shortly afterward with a condition he not get on a city transit bus, but on July 26 he entered a bus, either refused or was unable to pay, and refused to leave. After being combative with the driver for about 10 minutes, he finally got off the bus.
Paniec pleaded guilty recently in Lethbridge court of justice to charges of mischief and breaching release conditions. He was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation for a year.
He also pleaded guilty to two additional mischief charges and a second breach charge, as well as charges of assault, harassment, and two counts of transportation fraud.
On June 27, 2022 a guest at a city hotel had left his truck at the hotel while he was away working for CP Rail. While he was gone, Paniec scratched the vehicle, ripped off the antenna, bent the windshield wipers, damaged the sideview mirrors, and shoved a stick into the gas tank filler neck.
“The issue was, he was upset with someone, and I think he got the wrong truck,” explained Crown Prosecutor Michael Fox.
On April 3 a tenant of an apartment building on 13 Street North heard a commotion outside her apartment and saw Paniec force a woman from his apartment, then kick her while she was on her knees picking up some of her property.
The witness yelled at Paniec and told him to stop, and he approached her. As she backed into her apartment he punched her in the face then returned to his own apartment.
The following day Paniec called a taxi and told the driver he needed to go to a number of locations in the city, then to Pincher Creek to pick up some friends, then to Calgary for a Flames game. After driving around Lethbridge for an hour, the taxi driver said Paniec would need to pay the fare before leaving the city.
Paniec said he didn’t have any cash, and would not use his credit card, which he claimed had a $60,000 limit, for anything less than $1,000. The tab up to that point was about $100. The driver said he would accept a $1,000 payment up front to go to Pincher Creek and Calgary, but Paniec refused. He also refused to make a smaller payment of $50 for driving around the city, and he was arrested.
“Mr. Paniec’s response was, ‘I’ve been a criminal since I was 16, what’s one more charge going to do to me,’ ” Fox said.
The following July Paniec was again a passenger in a taxi, which had driven to a couple of locations, running up a tab of about $30. The last destination was the homeless shelter where, after learning Paniec was not allowed to be there, the taxi driver said he wanted to settle the bill. Instead of cash, Paniec offered the driver a basketball and baseball hat. The driver refused the trade, and Paniec was unable to pay.
On Sept. 10 Paniec was causing problems at a convenience store and gas bar on 6 Avenue South downtown, and was told he had to leave. After he left, he set fire to a garbage can next to the building, and when the flames grew larger he moved the container away from the building.
When an employee approached him and asked what he was doing, Paniec said he was keeping the mosquitos away.
Paniec was on release conditions at the time to stay away from an apartment building on 2 Avenue South. However, a tenant who knew about Paniec’s release condition, called police to say Paniec was on the sidewalk outside the building.
Paniec’s harassment charge stems from an incident on Sept. 6 after a female tenant of an apartment complex walked down the stairs to wait for a friend. Paniec was at the bottom of the stairs and asked the woman if she wanted to hear a dirty joke, to which she replied no, and rejected his offer to tell her other dirty jokes.
The woman’s friend arrived, and as they walked away Paniec continued to harass them, and when he was asked to leave them alone, he began calling them vulgar names.
Paniec received a global sentence of 180 days in jail for all the offences, for which he was given full credit for time he had already spent in custody, effectively concluding his sentence.
Although found fit to stand trial following a forensic assessment, Fox noted that the assessment indicates Paniec is suffering from a “deterioration in the realms of complex attention, executive function, learning, and memory and social cognition.” And while he does not have a “formal” mental health history, he is showing greater impulsivity, disinhibition, and memory issues.
Fox pointed out although Paniec has a small criminal record, he doesn’t have any convictions in the past 10 years.
“For a decade he’s had no criminal activity, and there’s no doubt when one looks at the nature of these offences, there’s no doubt that what the psychiatrists observed in Calgary when they prepared that report…led to these criminal activities.”
Lethbridge lawyer Scott Hadford suggested his client has boundary issues and “doesn’t know when to stop.” But despite his cognitive challenges, he is still able to be “almost charming.”
Unfortunately, Hadford added, it has been almost impossible to find resources and people in the community to help him because what makes him interesting, also makes him “tiring” to many people, and he has burned some bridges.
When the judge asked Paniec if he wanted to say anything before he was sentenced, his comments as he expressed his appreciation to the lawyers and judge for their help during his months in custody reflected his “charm,” as well as some of the concerns raised in the forensic report.
“I would like to thank Mr. Fox and Mr. Hadford and yourself, for an excellent job for my little holiday at the spa. Thank you very much.”

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