'It was me or him,' SQ officer tells inquest into teen's shooting death

The Sûreté du Québec officer who shot a 17-year-old following a car chase in Messines, Que., in 2015 testified Wednesday that he had no choice.

Coroner's inquest hears from police officers involved in 2015 shooting death of Brandon Maurice

SQ officers Dave Constantin (left) and Frédéric Fortier (right) testify by video conference at an inquest into the 2015 shooting death of 17-year-old Brandon Maurice. (Radio-Canada)

The Sûreté du Québec officer who shot a 17-year-old following a car chase in Messines, Que., in 2015 testified Wednesday that he had no choice.

"When I decided to fire my gun it was clear it was me or him," Const. Frédéric Fortier testified at the coroner's inquest into the shooting death of Brandon Maurice.

In French, Fortier described the efforts he took to get Maurice and his friend Christopher Houle out of their car following a 10-kilometre police chase.

Fortier described approaching the driver's side — where Maurice sat at the wheel — with his gun drawn.

Officer had 'no alternative'

When the car jerked into reverse, Fortier used his gloved fist to smash the driver's side window, but somehow got his arm stuck on the door.

Maurice began driving forward along the off-road trail with the officer hanging off the car.

Fortier said he feared for his life as he hung on, yelling, "Stop the car!"

"But he didn't say anything," said Fortier, describing how his feet dragged along the ground just "inches" from the back wheel of the car, while shrubs and branches whipped at his backside.

"All I could hear was the car accelerating, and [I was] thinking, he's not gonna stop." 

Fortier said he yelled at Maurice to stop the car a second time, but again, Maurice didn't respond.

"My feet started going numb," he said.

These images, entered into evidence at a coroner's inquest into the death of 17-year-old Brandon Maurice, show the injuries that Const. Frédéric Fortier suffered after he was dragged by the car Maurice was driving. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

When he fired his gun, he saw what he described as a ball of light, followed by Maurice slumped over the wheel of the car.  The vehicle stopped immediately.

"I had no alternative," Fortier said. "I thought I was going to die."

'Don't shoot, we're unarmed!'

Fortier testified Houle then shouted from the passenger seat, "Don't shoot, we're unarmed!" 

Fortier said his partner, Const. Dave Constantin, arrested Houle while he tried to ask Maurice where he was hurt. The teen, however, didn't respond.

He said he pulled Maurice out of the car and onto the ground and began CPR, but there were no signs of life.

Maurice was taken to a local hospital, where he was declared dead. 

Fortier testified Wednesday that Maurice would not stop his car, and that he had to shoot the teen, telling the inquest that 'it was me or him.' (Roland Carrier/Radio-Canada)

During Fortier's testimony, Maurice's mother Dominque Bernier slumped in her chair, her hand over her face.

The officers have already been cleared of criminal wrongdoing after an investigation in 2016 by the Bureau des enquetes independentes (BEI), Quebec's police watchdog.

Bernier lobbied to have an inquest clarify the circumstances surrounding the shooting of her son.

Questions have already been raised during the inquest about whether the chase was warranted under police guidelines, and whether the sirens were so loud they prevented the teens from hearing the demand to get out of the car.

Brandon Maurice, 17, died from a gunshot wound following a police chase early on the morning of Nov. 6, 2015, in the municipality of Messines, Que. (Family of Brandon Maurice)

Audio evidence shows contradiction

The inquest has already heard one contradiction involving the audio tape of the dispatcher's communications with the officers as they pursued the Toyota Corolla on Nov. 16, 2015.

The officers said they started the chase because the licence plates did not match the Toyota, but the audio tape suggests the chase was well underway before officers had that information. 

I was thinking, is the driver a hostage? I didn't understand.- Const. Frédéric Fortier

Fortier testified the Toyota came to a sudden stop on an off-road trail in a wooded area, blocked by a large log on the path. 

He said he stopped the patrol car right behind, got out, and approached the Toyota, shouting for the teens to come out with their hands up. 

Maurice didn't react, Fortier said, keeping his hands fixed to the wheel of the car and the motor running. 

"I found it bizarre that he didn't move," said Fortier, noting that a driver in that circumstance would typically look back or begin hiding something.

"I was thinking, is the driver a hostage? I didn't understand."

Testimony earlier this week from Maurice's friend Christopher Houle — the passenger in the car and the only other witness — suggested Maurice never heard the officers demands, only the siren of the patrol car.

In the audio tape of the officers' conversation with dispatch, the siren can be heard long after the shooting.  

Death still saddens officer

Earlier, Constantin corroborated much of Fortier's testimony, suggesting he too was afraid for Fortier's life when he saw his partner being dragged. 

Constantin said he still thinks about the tragedy and the pain Maurice's family suffered. 

Both officers testified through video link rather than attend the hearing at the Gatineau, Que., courthouse for what their lawyer called "security reasons."

Fortier's testimony will continue Thursday. Other experts are expected to testify as well before the hearing wraps up Friday.