A New Brunswick arbitrator has dismissed alleged code of conduct breaches by two Bathurst, N.B., police officers who were involved in a fatal shooting almost five years ago.
Constables Mathieu Boudreau and Patrick Bulger were accused of five code of conduct violations after Michel Vienneau was shot in his vehicle outside the Bathurst train station on Jan. 12, 2015.
The alleged breaches included improper use of a firearm, unnecessary use of force, acting in a discreditable manner, neglect of duty and being “abusive or oppressive” to a person while on duty.
Police were acting on an erroneous Crime Stoppers tip that Vienneau, a 51-year-old businessman, and his common-law partner, Annick Basque, were transporting illegal drugs on a trip from Montreal.
As police confronted the couple, one officer was pinned between the couple’s white 2013 Chevrolet Cruze vehicle and a snowbank.
Vienneau – who wasn’t involved in any criminal activity – was shot in the heart and lungs.
In a decision released Tuesday, arbitrator Joel Michaud rejected civilian evidence that Vienneau’s car had stopped moving by the time officers shot at it, noting the witness who said that had poor eyesight.
Michaud noted this was a key point because if the car was still moving toward the pinned officer, it could have been perceived as a lethal threat.
The witness’s “eyesight is not good, plus he was wrong on other key pieces of evidence, notably the (police) vehicle from which came the shooter. I think the version of the two officers is more reliable,” Michaud wrote in the decision.
The decision finds Vienneau and Basque sincerely believed they weren’t being confronted by police officers, and the arbitrator also says he doesn’t know what was going through Vienneau’s mind.
“Vienneau and Basque were concerned about terrorists during the weekend ... and when Boudreau and Bulger blocked their way, that’s what they saw,” he wrote.
“I think Vienneau acted quickly based on what he expected to see and experience, not what was actually taking place.”
The arbitrator also found that police lights on the unmarked police cars were activated, and there was cause for “grave” concerns about Basque’s testimony, including on the number of shots that were fired.
He said he accepted testimony from Boudreau that he fired twice at Vienneau, reassessed and then fired twice more, saying that was proper procedure.
He wrote that Bulger’s shots fired at the Chevrolet Cruze’s tire as he was lying on the ground were also acceptable.
“As he explained, he feared for his life. Despite the precarious situation in which he found himself, he opted not to take a shot at Vienneau.”
The arbitrator said in his 58-page decision he agreed with testimony that Bulger’s actions were those of a “consummate professional.”
Michaud heard from 13 witnesses and received 16 exhibits comprising hundreds of pages during the hearing.
He also found Bulger properly identified him when he got out of his police vehicle, and that Boudreau showed himself “both in the way he was dressed and in the way he acted” to be a police officer before he took the first of four shots.
He concluded “Vienneau’s vehicle was in motion when the first two shots were fired by Boudreau.”
Michaud does note that police policy calls for a police vehicle to be parked about seven metres behind a suspect’s vehicle in a situation of “unknown risk.”
However, he said that in this instance “this was simply not possible.”
He said the police car’s public address system, which might have announced the officer’s presence to the couple, had not been operational for months – but this wasn’t the fault of Boudreau and Bulger.
During closing arguments, lawyer Basile Chiasson, who represented the Bathurst Chief of Police, had said the two officers acted hastily and were “trying to show their mettle” that day.
Lawyers for the two officers argued the investigators were unfairly targeted for blame.
The decision was to determine possible disciplinary action against the officers.
They had been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the hearing.
Chiasson said in an interview the police chief is reviewing the decision.
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