The tragic day 'all hell broke loose' at the Bathurst train station

Defence lawyers for Bathurst police constables Mathieu Boudreau and Patrick Bulger share details about the 2015 fatal shooting of Tracadie businessman Michel Vienneau from the officers' perspective for the first time.

Constable has lived 'under cloud of suspicion' since firing fatal shot to protect partner, says lawyer

Bathurst Police Force constables Patrick Bulger (left) and Mathieu Boudreau are no longer facing criminal charges in the shooting death of Michel Vienneau, but still face a professional conduct investigation and a lawsuit. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

Mathieu Boudreau was a rookie constable with the Bathurst Police Force and working with a specialized joint-forces intelligence unit for only six months when it got an anonymous tip Michel Vienneau was arriving by train with "a load of drugs" from Montreal.

Boudreau and his partner, Const. Patrick Bulger, were instructed by a superior officer to investigate the tip, says his defence lawyer T.J. Burke.

They went to the Via Rail train station that day, Jan. 12, 2015, and found a car in the parking lot matching one the tipster had described as belonging to Vienneau, says Burke.

It has a light dusting of snow on it, consistent with the tipster's information that Vienneau and his common-law partner Annick Basque had been away a couple of days.

The officers had also obtained a copy of Vienneau's driver's licence from Service New Brunswick, so they would recognize the 51-year-old Tracadie businessman when they saw him, according to the lawyer.

Boudreau and Bulger parked next to the car in their unmarked vehicle and waited for Vienneau and Basque to get off the train and retrieve their luggage.

When the couple got in their car and Vienneau started the engine, Boudreau and Bulger activated their emergency lights and tried to block Vienneau from leaving. Bulger exited the vehicle and yelled, "Police, stop."

That's when "in all essence, all hell broke loose," says Burke, sharing details about the case from the officers' perspectives for the first time now that a publication ban on evidence has been lifted.

"Unfortunately Mr. Vienneau did not respond properly to the police officer's commands to stop the vehicle and get out," he says. Instead, Vienneau "hit the gas [and] smashed into" the unmarked police car.

Fired pistol 4 times

Const. Mathieu Boudreau's defence lawyer T.J. Burke says police face more public scrutiny today than ever before, due in part to the 'proliferation' of social media. (CBC)

Boudreau, who was only 25 years old at the time, watched in horror as his partner got struck by Vienneau's car and appeared to slide underneath it, pinned up against a snowbank, says Burke.

Boudreau fired his pistol four times, striking Vienneau and ultimately killing him. He "did what he was trained to do and protect his partner from being killed or being harmed in any grievous bodily way," following their use of force protocol, his lawyer says.

But for the past two and a half years, Boudreau has lived under a "cloud of suspicion" in the small community where he grew up and is now raising a young daughter, says Burke.

The anonymous tip about Vienneau proved to be false. Boudreau and Bulger were both charged with manslaughter by means of an unlawful act, assault with a weapon, and unlawfully pointing a firearm.

They faced the prospect of being sentenced to at least four years in a federal prison — the minimum sentence for manslaughter with a weapon under the Criminal Code.

"And we all know that police officers don't fare well in federal jails," says Burke.

Personal and professional stress

Const. Patrick Bulger's defence lawyer Brian Munro says he hopes the public will better understand the circumstances surrounding the case now that a publication ban has been lifted. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC )

Earlier this week, public prosecutors announced they won't be pursuing further criminal proceedings against the two officers after a provincial court judge ruled in February there wasn't enough evidence to proceed to trial and a Court of Queen's Bench justice upheld that decision in October.

Details about the case have been under a publication ban, which was lifted Monday.

Until then, "people really didn't know the true story of what happened that day," says Burke. They didn't know why Boudreau pulled the trigger and the circumstances leading up to the fatal shooting.

He's had to deal with the whispers in the community, he's had to deal with a lot of speculation, a lot of talk.- Brian Munro, defence lawyer for Const . Patrick Bulger

They only knew "what they've been told, or what they've read, or what they've seen in social media — that it appeared that these two renegade cops went guns blazing down to the Bathurst train station and just randomly shot somebody that was unknown to them or who was suspected to be innocent," says Burke.

"It's been very difficult on [Boudreau]. He's gone through a tremendous amount of personal stress and professional stress."

Bulger, 38, has faced similar scrutiny and "emotional trauma," says his defence lawyer, Brian Munro.

"He's had to go to court a number of times, he's had to deal with the whispers in the community, he's had to deal with a lot of speculation, a lot of talk."

It's easy to second-guess or speculate about what could have or should have been done differently, says Munro.

"Hindsight's 20/20."

But he remained confident throughout that there was no unlawful act by either officer, no criminality involved. He hopes now that more information has been released, the public will have a better understanding of the case.

Performed CPR

"This is not a situation where you had some rogue police officers running down the street without any authority, without any badges, without any lights flashing and just grabbing somebody and hauling them down to the street corner and … pounding on them.

"That's just not the case and it's very easy to distinguish this case from those types of situations."

He notes, for example, that police dash cam video shows Bulger, a former paramedic of 11 years, performed CPR on Vienneau, trying to resuscitate him, until ambulance crews arrived.

Another officer, also a former paramedic, was also on his hands and knees in the snow, attempting to stop the bleeding.

Annick Basque's version of events leading up to the shooting death of her common-law husband Michel Vienneau is very different from that of the officers involved. (Facebook)

The "crux" of the case, says Munro, "and I think both judges came to the same conclusion in regards to this," is once police activate their emergency lights and attempt to stop a vehicle, which they have a right to do under the Motor Vehicle Act, a driver should comply.

"In this case, it didn't play out that way," he says. "That's where the tragedy starts to unravel and that's where the events start to fall like dominos."

With criminal proceedings now concluded, Munro hopes life will start to "normalize" for the two officers.

They've been back at work since February, but still face a Police Act investigation by the New Brunswick Police Commission and a lawsuit filed by Vienneau's partner.

Munro says they're both strong and professional, but he believes their lives have been forever changed.​

"Something like this … it never really ends," he says. "From an emotional perspective, it's something that you carry with you, I'm sure."