MONTREAL — A Montreal police officer with a bizarre definition of a good deed was suspended without pay for three days after entering a family’s home “without any right” in the middle of the night to return a lost wallet.
The series of events detailed in a recent decision from Quebec’s police ethics committee is downright bizarre.
Officer Ghyslain Lavoie entered a house where lawyer Yves Gratton, his partner and their three children were sleeping, just before 2 a.m. on Aug 22, 2017. He was trying to return Mr Gratton’s daughter’s lost wallet, which had been found and turned in to police days earlier.
Gratton is a legal aid defence lawyer who has been practising in Quebec since 1993. A few days after the events, he filed a complaint with the police ethics commissioner, the provincial office which examines complaints filed against police officers, wildlife protection officers, special constables, highway controllers and UPAC investigators who may have violated its code of conduct.
Lavoie, who stated in his deposition he wasn’t aware of Gratton’s profession, went to great lengths to return the lost wallet. When it was given to him by a citizen who had found it, on Aug. 20, the police officer visited an address he found for the owner. When nobody answered the door, he decided to visit another address listed on the documents: Gratton’s home.
Lavoie knocked on the door of the Gratton family’s home around 3:22 a.m on the night of Aug. 21, according to an account of events endorsed by both parties. Nobody answered. He tried calling Gratton’s partner’s phone, but no one picked up. He couldn’t leave a message because her voicemail was full, the committee’s decision notes.
But Lavoie wasn’t ready to throw the towel. When he was back at work the following night, the officer returned to Gratton’s home with his partner, officer Milena Maturana. Around 1:46 a.m., Maturana rang the doorbell. Again, nobody answered.
Meanwhile, Lavoie inspected the car parked in the driveway and noticed it was left unlocked. The officer then took out another wallet left on the passenger seat of the vehicle “wanting to prevent a theft,” administrative documents state.
Determined to return the wallets to their owners, Lavoie went around the house to the back door, which was also unlocked. After knocking and ringing the doorbell multiple times, he entered the house.
“In his deposition, he mentioned entering to check if there had been a theft or if someone needed assistance,” the committee noted in its decision.
Awoken by Lavoie’s repeated calls of “Hello? Police,” Gratton got out of bed and came face to face with Lavoie, who was climbing the stairs to the first floor.
“He sees a police officer in uniform in his home, who is shining a flashlight towards him,” the committee wrote. Maturana is still downstairs.
After a short conversation with Gratton, Lavoie handed him the wallets and cautioned him to always lock his door “for his safety.” The police officers then left the residence.
A few minutes later, Gratton called 911 to complain about the intervention. He filed an official ethics complaint against both officers on Sept. 1.
Three days suspension
Lavoie, who has never violated the police force’s code of conduct in his 26 years of service, admitted he had searched the lawyer’s car without having the right to do so. He also conceded that he shouldn’t have entered the home, “since he didn’t have any power or motive allowing him to enter in this space when the expectation of privacy is high.”
In light of this, the committee accepted the parties’ joint recommendation to give him a three-day suspension without pay. Maturana wasn’t sanctioned because the investigation determined Lavoie spearheaded the intervention.
Montreal police told HuffPost Quebec it never comments in decisions rendered by the ethics committee about its employees. Stating the need to “respect the integrity of the process that led to the decision in this case,” the police service also refused to provide any information about what officers should do when someone gives them a found object such as a wallet.
Yves Gratton couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
A lengthy process
It isn’t unusual for Quebec police ethics complaints to take months or even years to lead to sanctions.
By law, the police ethics commissioner has 40 days to complete its preliminary investigation and determine if a complaint should be rejected, investigated or sent through a conciliation process. In practice, the average delay for a preliminary investigation was 58 days in 2018-2019.
The average length of an investigation was 196 days, which were sometimes preceded by an unsuccessful mediation attempt. The average delay for a ruling was 56 days in 2018-2019, even though the law says it shouldn’t exceed 45 days.
The commissioner then decides to cite the officer(s) before the police ethics committee. That’s when the delays really start piling up. According to the Committee’s most recent annual report, the average treatment delays for 80 per cent of cases was 589 days in 2018-2019.
The Quebec government is hoping to cut these averages by 5 per cent every year, but failed to do so in 2018-2019, citing the lingering impacts of a 2016-2017 strike by lawyers working for the State.