It was less a line than a huddle, a mass of mostly young men and women spilling out from a doorway and into the hall. They crowded the vestibule. They overflowed the court. They mixed with the regulars — the radiomen, the TV talkers, the tabloid columnist in his cargo pants and cap. Together they filled the basement of Toronto’s oldest, and, on most days, saddest courthouse. They craned and they leaned and they whispered. If a collective could be said to gawk, they gawked, all of them, all hoping to get a look at a most unlikely celebrity, a man made famous in Toronto for allegedly drenching strangers with poo.
Some said there were close to a hundred in all. Others pegged the number near 70. What is clear is that, at 10 a.m., when Samuel Opoku’s bail hearing was scheduled to start, there were many times more of them than there were seats in the court. When the doors to Courtroom 101, Bail Court, opened, the cornice of the crowd broke off inside. Most of those waiting were left in the vestibule or out in the hall. The columnist argued for a seat. He, too, was denied. But no matter. It would be hours yet before Opoku would appear.
On Tuesday night, Toronto police arrested Opoku after someone recognized his photo in a news report. They charged the 23-year-old with five counts of assault with a weapon and five more of mischief. Police believe Opoku is the man behind three separate feces attacks in the city in less than a week.
On Friday, a man dumped a bucket full of what has been described as liquefied feces on two people studying at the University of Toronto’s Robarts Library. On Sunday, what police believe was the same man struck again, with another bucket of feces, at a library at York University. Finally, on Monday night, a young woman was attacked, with a bucket full of waste, on the southern edge of the U of T campus after leaving a pharmacy building.
The attacks have by turn horrified, terrified and entertained Toronto’s thousands of university students. Ruby Mann and Daniela Krcmar, both students at York, said they’ve seem memes online, fake movie posters, even Twitter hoaxes dedicated to the attacker since the York attack Sunday. One of Mann’s friends was in the library when it happened. He posted a video on Snapchat of the aftermath. She didn’t think much of it at first. Her friend is a party guy. She thought it some weird joke. And then the attacker struck again and the news, and the memes, began to spread. “It was all over campus,” Mann said. “The building we live in — they printed out pictures of him. My mom knew about it. She lives in Vancouver.”
Mann and Krcmar arrived too late to get a seat in the courtroom, which rarely draws a crowd, at 10 a.m. It didn’t matter, at 10:33, the judge called a recess and those inside lost their spots. Two constables walked out and toward the coffee station. “Where does he get it, that’s what I want to know,” one said to the other. “Well, he watered it down with urine, that’s what I heard,” her partner replied.
The line up outside the courtroom took on the air of packed a concert floor before the opening act. Everyone jostled for position and space, politely, then less so. The columnist ate a courthouse sandwich — egg salad, maybe, or it might have been tuna. The door opened again and again a tiny fraction of the group slipped inside. In the vestibule, a lucky few huddled around a closed circuit TV. A lawyer walked past. “The circus is in town,” he said, looking at the group. “Wow,” one student said. “Does that make me a clown?”
Meanwhile, the ordinary business of court ground on. Mothers and brothers and sons appeared, weighed down with sadness and resignation, to bail out their unfamous kin.
And then, at 11:33, movement. The doors opened and parts of the crowed sprinted out. The judge had shifted Opoku’s hearing upstairs, to a larger room. The next few minutes looked like a land run in a gold boom or a scavenger hunt. Students leapt up marble stairs. They turned corners and tried shortcuts. They asked staff for the quickest way to the new room. The first ones in planted themselves in the front row and grinned with elation at their luck. And then the judge arrived and promptly announced the morning break. “Please clear the courtroom,” the clerk called out.
Waiting outside the room, later that afternoon, Krcmar and Mann explained what drew them in. “I watch a lot of crime documentaries and stuff and it was just crazy that something happened in our own backyard,” Krcmar said. “We all remember studying at Scott Library and just knowing that something like that could have happened to us, to me, was captivating enough to get me to come all the way down.” For Mann, it was a happy coincidence. She needed to attend a day of court for a class assignment. Still, “the majority of why we came here was to see what was the motive behind it and to get some more background on it,” she said.
My mom knew about it. She lives in Vancouver
By 2:15, when court resumed, the crowd had thinned. There were maybe 30 spectators left in the gallery, half of them journalists. Jiazhen Li, a first year engineering student, was there with his mom. He said the attacks made him feel very awkward and frightened. “This is for me nothing less than a gunshot,” he said.
Eventually, Opoku, the man himself, walked in, led by courthouse guards. He was tall and slim. He wore a denim shirt and dark pants. He slumped into his seat and kept his head down. His back made an arch like a boulder. Most of what happened in the court Wednesday is covered by a publication ban. Opoku’s bail hearing was put off until Dec. 3. He’ll remain in custody until then. After all those hours of waiting, the whole thing only took a few minutes. After a brief conversation with his lawyer, Jordan Weisz, Opoku, his chin still nearly on his chest, walked out.
Speaking outside, after the hearing, Weisz said the public didn’t yet have the full story. He said his client feels “shocked” right now. “It’s not a pleasant situation to be sitting in a courtroom with the public scrutiny he’s currently having to endure,” Weisz said. “It’s obviously overwhelming, as it would be for anybody.”
When asked if his client had any pre-existing mental health conditions, Weisz replied: “Certainly the nature of the allegations suggest that.” He added, though, that he had no concerns about his client’s fitness to stand trial. “He obviously understands the nature of the proceedings,” Weisz said. “Absolutely.”
Opoku will be back in court Tuesday. He will likely draw a crowd.
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