Montreal officer cleared, inquiry called into shooting death of teen

A Montreal police officer used justified force when he shot a teenager at close range during an arena parking lot brawl last summer and won't face any criminal charges, Quebec's public prosecutions office has said.

Family of Fredy Villanueva, 18, disputes findings that police acted in self-defence

Montreal city workers clean up after weekend rioting in the city's north end, Monday, Aug.11, 2008. Propane tank fireballs, Molotov cocktails and gunfire lit up a Montreal neighbourhood as youth gangs responded to the shooting death of Fredy Villanueva by police. ((Peter McCabe/Canadian Press))
A Montreal police officer used justified force when he shot a teenager at close range during an arena parking lot brawl last summer and won't face any criminal charges, Quebec's public prosecution office has said.

The province will still order an independent public inquiry into the shooting of Fredy Villanueva, 18, last Aug. 9 although no charges have been laid, Justice Minister Jacques Dupuis said Monday night.

"The family and the public want to know the emotions and the motivations of those involved," Dupuis said, noting presiding Judge Robert Sansfaçon will be free to make recommendations to the police force.

Dupuis said the public inquiry is necessary to respond to calls for an independent investigation.

The justice minister also praised the provincial police's investigation into the shooting.

Shooting was self-defence, prosecutor says

Villanueva's shooting in a Montreal North parking lot sparked a night of rioting in the working-class, multi-ethnic borough.

Friends and family say Fredy Villanueva, 18, was a kind and gentle young man. ((CBC))
Four people were injured, and rioters caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage looting stores and torching cars, including police cruisers.

The shooting was justified, because the officer acted to save himself and his partner in their confrontation with Villanueva and his group of friends, said François Brière, a Crown prosecutor who reviewed the police report.

Police officers Stéphanie Pilotte and Jean-Loup Lapointe first approached the group of teens after noticing they were playing dice in a public place, in violation of municipal law.

Brière said that Dany Villanueva, Fredy's older brother, refused to identify himself,  resisted arrest, and reacted aggressively, according to four eyewitnesses.

Despite orders to settle down and identify himself, the older Villanueva got close to both officers and gestured in their faces. Pilotte grabbed him by the arm to arrest him and he struggled to get away, yelling for the officer to release him.

Lapointe joined the struggle, which began to escalate as the group formed a line around the officers and protested Villanueva's arrest. "Fearing that some were armed, he ordered them to back up," Brière said of the officer.

Police still had trouble controlling Villanueva when they got him on the ground.

The group moved closer and began a physical altercation with the officers in a sequence of events that "unfolded quickly," Brière said. Lapointe was on the ground, Pilotte was being hit and called for help.

"Fredy Villanueva advanced, with his hand open toward his throat and his other hand descending toward his [Lapointe's] belt," Brière said.

Lapointe felt hands grabbing him around his body and close to his gun and pepper spray. He managed to get his service pistol out and fired four times, hitting Fredy Villanueva twice from 38 centimetres away. Two other people were wounded.

Brière said besides witness testimony and physical evidence, investigators also relied on several videos taken during the incident, including images taken by a nearby security camera and people using cell phone cameras.

Brière noted that one witness overheard on one of the cellphone videos shot by a witness backed the police.

"A unknown voice said, 'Yo, yo, who's dead?' " Brière said. "The witness responded, 'A guy had a fight with police, the guy didn't have a choice in shooting, man. He was really threatened.' "

Cousin contradicts findings, other say inquiry will do good

Villanueva's cousin, Anthony Clavasquin, who saw police shoot Fredy, said he's disappointed police weren't charged because their version of events is questionable.

Several more eyewitnesses are keen to testify at the public inquiry, Clavasquin told French-language news network LCN.

Montreal North was lit up by torched cars and garbage cans after Villanueva was shot dead. ((CBC))
Tensions have been high in Montreal North since the announcement was made that the officer won't be charged, Clavasquin said.

Community organizer Victor Henriquez believes a public inquiry will go a long way in restoring police credibility in the area.

Holding a "transparent" inquiry will go a long way to ease antipathy towards authorities, as long as residents participate, he added.

"It is our responsibility as citizens to participate in that inquiry. You can't say after the inquiry, 'I knew that, but nobody said that,'" he said.

"If you don't do it, nobody will. So we, as the people, have to do it."

Henriquez indicated he spoke with Villanueva's family Monday night, and said they were shocked and disappointed by the report's findings.

Politicians support public inquiry

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay applauded the call for a public inquiry, and appealed for calm in the city, saying there has been much work done already to improve relations with residents in the low-income neighbourhood.

Patricia Villanueva holds a photo of her brother Fredy, shown with and her husband Javier, (left and right in the picture). The rest of her family stand behind her: Sister Wendy, brother Dany, father Gilberto, mother Maribel Madrid, and sister Lilian. ((Peter McCabe/Canadian Press))
Premier Jean Charest says the public inquiry will determine the credibility of the police in this case.

But the Liberal leader would not say if it's necessary for Quebec to follow Ontario's lead of appointing independent investigators to investigate police officers.

"The important thing is the credibility of the investigation, whatever form it may take," he said Tuesday morning.

"And there's no reason now to question the credibility of the investigation that has been done. And some people may choose to raise this issue, if they choose to do [so], we'll listen to them."

Quebec court judge Robert Sansfaçon will lead a public inquiry into the shooting and will be granted "latitude" and "freedom" to determine what happened and what lessons can be gleaned, Charest said.

ADQ Leader Mario Dumont said a public inquiry is a good idea, but Quebec also needs to focus on improving education and creating more sports programs to steer young Quebecers away from street gangs.

The police report's findings were originally to be released Tuesday afternoon, but officials revealed its contents after several media outlets leaked the results.

With files from the Canadian Press