Vancouver police investigate the city’s first homicide of 2020

Vancouver police are investigating the city’s first homicide of the year after a man was assaulted in Oppenheimer Park on New Year’s Day.

Just before 1 p.m. Wednesday, officers were called to Oppenheimer Park where a man had been assaulted near the basketball court in the northeast corner of the park.

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Jesus Cristobal-Esteban was taken to hospital with serious injuries. The 62-year-old later fell unconscious and died Thursday.

The park has been the site of a growing homeless encampment for more than a year; however, VPD media relations officer Const. Tania Visintin told the Courier Cristobal-Esteban was not living in the park.

The identity of the suspect is not known at this time but police believe the victim and the suspect had some kind of “interaction” prior to the assault.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call VPD homicide detectives at 604-717-2500 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.

There were 14 homicides in 2019.

The death comes after a spate of violence in the Downtown Eastside in recent months including six shootings between September and December.  Back in September, VPD Deputy Chief Howard Chow told reporters a gang turf war was taking root in the Downtown Eastside with new and long-established gangs preying upon residents of the DTES and the Oppenheimer encampment.

Last month, after months of political jockeying between the city, Vancouver Park Board and police, park board commissioners approved steps toward what it referred to as a “decampment plan” along with the prospect of a court-ordered injunction that would force campers out of the beleaguered park.

The latest measures include: bringing in a third party to conduct an independent assessment of the current situation in Oppenheimer Park and provide recommendations to enhance safety, provide support and seek appropriate shelter for people camping in the park.

Numerous attempts by the city and B.C. Housing have already been made to move campers into nearby shelter space and single room occupancy hotels dating back to August when park board general manager Malcolm Bromley first ordered campers out of the park.

Park board commissioners have directed staff to “deepen existing partnerships between the city, B.C. Housing and the park board” and to revise the current bylaw, which precludes people from sheltering in parks, in order to bring it up to current standards, in accordance with other municipalities, and to meet legal precedent.

The board has also authorized Bromley to seek an injunction once those conditions are met.

- With files from John Kurucz

@JessicaEKerr

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