[Hpn] Blue Wall of Silence: Can mainstream media help to crack it?

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sat, 29 Apr 2000 23:14:18 -0700 (PDT)


Can mainstream media help to crack the "Blue Wall of Silence" which
protects police from conviction for murdering "undesirables", such as
homeless people?


See below for a related article:

FWD Montreal Gazette - Thursday 27 April 2000

CHARGES LAID IN LIZOTTE DEATH

Vagrant Jean-Pierre Lizotte died after an altercation last fall. Now, a
police officer and a cafe doorman are facing manslaughter charges.

GEORGE KALOGERAKIS, EILEEN TRAVERS of The Gazette contributed to this report

A Montreal Urban Community police constable was suspended without pay
yesterday after being charged with manslaughter in the death of itinerant
Jean-Pierre Lizotte.

Constable Giovanni Stante, 32, was one of two officers sent to a St.
Laurent Blvd. cafe because of complaints that Lizotte, who appeared to be
stoned, was masturbating in front of patrons.

Also charged with manslaughter was a cafe doorman, 25-year-old Steve
Deschatelets.

The charges were authorized by Quebec Court Judge Francois Doyon following
special hearings on what happened eight months ago.

Witnesses said a police officer punched Lizotte, 45, in the face several
times while he was being restrained in a wrestling hold by a doorman.

Lizotte's death has rekindled memories of cabbie Richard Barnabe's death
after a 1993 beating by MUC police.

After Stante was charged, police chief Michel Sarrazin suspended him.
Stante and his partner had been on desk duty while being investigated.

A statement from Sarrazin said he won't comment further on the case.

Stante and Deschatelets, who no longer works at the cafe, are to be
arraigned May 12. Both also face charges of assault causing bodily harm and
aggravated assault, but the manslaughter charge is the most serious because
it can lead to a life sentence in prison.

The charges were announced yesterday by senior prosecutor Michel Breton at
the end of closed-door hearings.

Breton said there was no reason to charge the second police officer. "The
evidence shows that that person did nothing illegal whatsoever."

Breton refused to divulge what 20 witnesses told the judge during five days
of testimony. Doyon slapped a publication ban on all of it.

Neither Stante nor Deschatelets testified at the hearing, though the
officer who was cleared did.

The cleared officer is to remain on desk duty while the MUC police look at
whether internal disciplinary measures are necessary.

Lizotte's brother, who is in Bordeaux jail for assault, said he plans to file
a wrongful-death lawsuit against police.

By telephone from jail, Leopold Lizotte said he is happy about the charges
but doesn't like the way powerless people like himself and his brother are
treated by police and the courts.

"I want to shine an immense light on all this," Lizotte said. "There is
justice just for those who have the cash."

He said his brother was a drug addict who lost control of himself when high.

"Beating a guy to death for something stupid like that? If I had beaten
someone like that, what would I get? Five years? Ten years?
Twenty years?"

Yves Manseau, head of the police-watchdog group Mouvement Action Justice,
applauded the laying of charges.

"Justice got back on track today," he said. "It is an improvement after
Barnabe. Our remaining concern is the quality of the
investigation. What brings us hope is that the crime was committed in front
of a crowd."

He said he was disappointed that no charges were laid against a second
doorman and the other police officer.

Manseau's group filed a complaint with the Quebec Police Ethics Committee
against both officers in the case.

Eric Cimon was happy with yesterday's events. He is head of promotions at
the Journal l'Itineraire, a magazine sold by homeless people that took up
Lizotte's cause.

He and others have said the homeless are regularly treated like
second-class citizens by police: "We have about 70 vendors out there who
are afraid this could happen to them."

Police critics who linked the Barnabe and Lizotte cases drew a heated
rebuke from Alain Simoneau, head of the MUC Police Brotherhood.

"Until the contrary is proven, the police officer in this case is
considered innocent," Simoneau said.

"People are badly placed to make comparisons right now between Barnabe and
Lizotte. This is disappointing because those people don't know all the
facts yet. All they want is a conviction."

The Surete du Quebec worked with Longueuil prosecutors in investigating
Lizotte's death.

Witnesses are reported to have seen Lizotte immobilized, pinned from behind
in a full nelson wrestling hold but still able to lash out with his feet.
That's when a policeman punched him a number of times, witnesses say.

In the scuffle, Lizotte tumbled and the three others fell on him. Witnesses
said he was bleeding profusely.

Lizotte had just been released from jail, and his criminal record for drugs
and assaults dated back decades, including a case of
attacking police.

He was taken to a hospital with spinal-cord injuries, probably caused by
the fall, and died on Oct. 16, more than a month later.

The MUC police have been criticized for keeping quiet about the case until
months after Lizotte died. The case became known after shocked bystanders
contacted the media.

Sarrazin has said the force might have been negligent in not making the
affair known right away.

And he said four top-ranking officers were under internal investigation to
see whether there was a coverup. The four included an investigation
commander, an operations commander, a chief inspector and a deputy chief.

END FORWARD

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