POLITICS

Montreal's notorious police officer, 'No. 728', suspended

10/11/2012 01:43 EDT | Updated 12/11/2012 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - A notorious police constable has been suspended after she was involved, once again, in an aggressive exchange captured on video.

The officer best known in Montreal as "No. 728," in reference to her badge number, will be temporarily sidelined pending a disciplinary investigation, the local police chief announced Thursday.

Const. Stefanie Trudeau first rose to local prominence earlier this year when video surfaced of her generously pepper-spraying a crowd of student protesters who appeared to pose no threat last May.

This week new video surfaced of a forceful, profanity-laced arrest during a dispute that started with a man drinking a beer outdoors.

After the incident she was recorded unleashing expletives and derogatory comments about artists, protesters, musicians and dwellers of a certain downtown Montreal neighbourhood and she described the people on the scene as, among many other things, "rats."

Montreal's police chief Marc Parent apologized Thursday to anyone slighted by the comments.

"I felt it was important, in the name of the employees of the Montreal police and in my own name, to apologize to the different people targeted in comments by the police officer," Parent said.

"These comments are completely unacceptable, intolerable and do not reflect our values."

He said the officer is suspended during an internal disciplinary investigation, which he promised will be completed quickly. He noted that the police service has a zero-tolerance policy for profiling of any kind — racial, social or political.

Trudeau, known as "No. 728," was initially relegated to desk duty Wednesday after video of the Oct. 2 incident was broadcast by Radio-Canada.

A man in the video identified as Rudy Orchietti told the network that he was nursing a beer while holding the door open for a friend who was hauling musical equipment into an apartment upstairs.

According to Orchietti, things turned sour after Trudeau showed up and asked for his identification papers, and he demanded to know why. That version of the events is supported by Trudeau's own description caught on the audio recording.

Orchietti said he was then tossed to the ground and handcuffed.

The video shows a man, identified as Serge Lavoie, complaining that the arrest of his friend is unnecessary. Lavoie is subsequently put in a headlock, dragged down the stairs in a choke hold, and forcefully handcuffed.

All the while, bystanders recording the event complain that Lavoie is being choked. The cellphones being used as recording devices were confiscated by Trudeau.

The decision to confiscate the phones may have had fateful consequences for officer No. 728; one of those phones later happened to record a conversation between her and a person believed to be a superior, apparently without her knowledge.

The recording captures references to "guitar-plucking" artists, "rats," and people who wear red squares, the symbol of Quebec's student-protest movement. There is also talk about choking a suspect, along with a string of unprintable epithets.

Three men and a woman face charges of obstructing police, assault and intimidation from the incident but they told Radio-Canada they have no idea why they were targeted or detained.

Trudeau is already facing an ethics investigation over the pepper-spray incident during Quebec's springtime protests. She was permanently removed from crowd-control units when excerpts of that incident surfaced in a video that has been viewed more than 500,000 times on YouTube.

Montreal police admitted they were caught off-guard by the latest video and a spokesman said no complaint had been filed before the snippets were aired in the media.

Parent stressed that not all the facts have been verified.

He also said steps have been taken to tighten the screening and reporting mechanisms in the force and try to determine why certain "red flags" regarding Trudeau's conduct didn't come to light earlier.

The officer has had three previous cases before the province's police ethics committee.

Court documents show she was suspended for six days for exhibiting an aggressive attitude towards an employee at Ste-Justine Hospital while investigating a case in 1996.

She failed to have the ruling overturned on appeal. In another case, Trudeau and another officer were cleared of any wrongdoing. In a third incident, the case was dropped after the complainant left the country.

A spokesman for Montreal's police union declined to comment on Trudeau's case and said the officer would not be commenting either.

Reaction to the incident was swift and harsh.

Quebec's musicians' guild condemned "the excessive violence and derogatory comments" against two of its members and the slur against all artists.

It asked that the Crown drop charges against the four people charged.

Local and provincial politicians also weighed in.

Michael Applebaum, chair of Montreal's executive committee, called Trudeau's actions "unacceptable and disturbing." Applebaum said he expects the police force will investigate fully.

"This is not the behaviour we want to see in our police. This is a stain on the City of Montreal," Applebaum told reporters.

In Quebec City, Public Security Minister Stephane Bergeron said he won't interfere in the disciplinary process.

But he acknowledged that what he saw was troubling.

"There's a level of aggression, a level of language, that was not appropriate," Bergeron told Radio-Canada.

A demonstration against Trudeau is being planned for tomorrow night in Montreal, where participants will call for her permanent dismissal from the force.