POLITICS

Compassion for a notorious cop: Man nabbed by 'Const. 728' asks folks to go easy on her

10/12/2012 02:12 EDT | Updated 12/12/2012 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - A man facing criminal charges after an arrest delivered with a string of profanity and an extended choke-hold is now calling for compassion toward the now-notorious officer who brought him in.

The arrest of Simon Page and three others has triggered a passionate debate about police ethics in Montreal and directed a wave of public outrage at the officer.

But Page is concerned about how Const. Stefanie Trudeau — best known locally as "No. 728" for her badge number — will be treated in the coming weeks.

He says he can't help but feel badly for her.

"Her life is troubled right now — probably much more than our lives," Page said Friday outside a police station, shortly after having his fingerprints taken for charges of intimidation and obstruction of justice.

"She's a human, after all."

The Oct. 2 incident has provoked a torrent of outrage against Trudeau. Media reports have scrutinized her past, with one even quoting an old elementary-school classmate unflatteringly describing her behaviour and vocabulary as a child.

There have been online death threats against the officer. Her home address has been published on the Internet. And an anti-police protest was planned for late Friday.

Trudeau, who has been the subject of complaints in the past, was suspended Thursday pending an internal disciplinary investigation.

Cellphone footage shows a dispute that started with an artist named Rudi Ochietti drinking a beer in front of an apartment building. Things quickly spiralled out of control into an improbable scene that saw four people arrested and 20 police cars arrive at the site.

The recordings captured images of Ochietti's arrest and that of another man, Serge Lavoie, who was dragged down the stairs in a choke-hold.

"I thought that she was killing me at that moment," Lavoie said Friday.

He faces charges of assault, obstruction and intimidation and was due to have fingerprints taken Friday night. Lavoie, a musician, has been consumed by worry over the charges and he hopes they will eventually be dropped — for everyone who was arrested.

"We all have peaceful lives and suddenly you (have to) think about something new," said Lavoie, who insists that while he's not angry at Trudeau, he wonders how such an aggressive police officer was permitted to work — and carry a gun.

"With this mentality, she's dangerous. But maybe she didn't know that she was dangerous?

"But someone should have known."

Audio captured by a cellphone had a voice, identified as Trudeau's, unleashing expletives and derogatory comments about artists, protesters, musicians and dwellers of a trendy Montreal neighbourhood.

Trudeau was overheard describing the people on the scene as "rats," among many other things, prompting an apology from police chief Marc Parent. Police say they weren't aware of the incident until the images and audio were broadcast Wednesday.

Ochietti told The Canadian Press on Friday that he hasn't filed a formal complaint against Trudeau yet because he's not convinced the police disciplinary system works.

He said the fact that Trudeau has continued to patrol the streets after multiple past ethics complaints demonstrates a problem within the police force and a culture of circling the wagons.

He defended the group's decision to go to the media instead.

"We realized that if we filed an ethics complaint, nothing would have happened," said Ochietti, who added that they are still considering their options about whether to take further action.

"She would have continued to walk the beat in the city and beat up people."

Records show that Trudeau has had cases before the ethics board on at least three occasions.

She was once suspended for six days for being aggressive towards an employee at a children's hospital while investigating a 1996 case. In another case, Trudeau and another officer were cleared of any wrongdoing. In the third case, the case was dropped after the complainant left the country.

Trudeau first gained fame after a pepper-spray incident during Quebec's springtime protests. She was shown aggressively pumping the chemical irritants into a group of protesters.

Excerpts of that incident surfaced in a video that has since been viewed more than 500,000 times on YouTube. She was permanently removed from crowd-control units and is subject to an investigation over that incident, as well.

In a separate event that occurred the same day that the pepper-spray video was posted, a Buddhist-studies scholar alleges Trudeau uttered a racist slur and used unjustified force against him.

Julian Menezes, an expert on the eastern religion who lectures at McGill University, said he had a late-night run in with Trudeau on May 20.

Menezes alleges that Trudeau tackled him to the ground, handcuffed him and wrestled him into a police cruiser for no reason. He said he injured his ankle during the struggle.

At the time, he had stopped to speak with a cyclist who was being a given a ticket by Trudeau and her partner.

While sitting in the back of the police car, Menezes alleges that Trudeau sped up and slammed the brakes several times. He said he was thrown forward and his face smashed against the glass divider at least three times, bruising the bridge of his nose.

"You don't even have the time to be scared in some ways because it's so unbelievable," he said.

"It's really dangerous. She's speeding through streets and back alleys in the city and putting a lot of citizens' lives at risk."

Menezes filed complaints a few months ago against Trudeau — and her partner that night — with both the human-rights and police-ethics commissions. He is also claiming $30,000 in damages from the City of Montreal and the police force.

The cases have not been resolved, but Menezes said he has already lost his faith in the police.

"I think police should govern through mutual trust rather than intimidation and violence," said Menezes, who was surprised that an officer facing so many complaints was still on the street.

"There clearly is a system of remaining silent on these matters and putting people, who clearly go off-book, back into the police force."

Meanwhile, the criminal charges stand against the people involved in the beer-drinking incident that resulted in the choke-hold and arrests.

As of Friday, Ochietti said he and three other people arrested that night still face charges including intimidating a police officer, assault and obstruction of justice.

He said 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.

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

The video shows 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 phones being used as recording devices were confiscated by Trudeau.

The decision to confiscate the phones may have had fateful consequences for Trudeau; one of them later happened to record a conversation between her and another unidentified person, apparently without their knowledge.

The recording captures her 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.

Attempts to reach Trudeau have not succeeded and the Montreal police brotherhood has declined to comment on her case.

Ochietti said Lavoie apparently received a call from the police on Friday asking what his "intentions" were.

He said it's unclear what that meant.

But one member of the group, Page, condemned people who have threatened the officer and publicized her address.

"This is awful, this should not happen," said the bassist, who sports a bushy black beard and an unruly mop of hair.

"It's not a way to solve any problems."

- with files by Sidhartha Banerjee