The suspended cop known as Badge Number 728 bulled her way through many citizen encounters over the years, but it’s a second violent incident recently caught on video that has put the Montreal police force onto Quebec’s growing list of public institutions suspected of tolerating the intolerable.
In a province where an inquiry will resume Monday that has already exposed allegations of influence peddling, unethical behaviour and questionable judgment reaching into the highest political offices, “matricule 728,” as she’s known in French, has many Montrealers now wondering if the police can be trusted in simple encounters with citizens.
And as a couple hundred protesters went back into the streets on the weekend to demand 728 be fired, many doubt the officials who oversee police can be trusted to weed out problem officers.
Constable Stéfanie Trudeau, who rose to fame when she was caught on video dousing pedestrians with pepper spray during protests last spring, has become a YouTube sensation again in Quebec for a muscular takedown of four musicians and artists who were loading musical equipment into an apartment. The intervention was apparently triggered because one man was carrying a beer on a public sidewalk as he helped.
Twenty police cars were eventually called to the scene, where four men were put into strangleholds, had some (but not all) of their cellphones seized, and were charged with obstruction, assault and intimidation.
“They were being obstinate … I had to raise the tone and I started going crazy to get them to behave,” Constable Trudeau said later in one side of a telephone conversation surreptitiously recorded by one of the detainees who managed to hold on to his phone. “I didn’t want to pepper spray them because it would make headlines.”
The recording captures an invective-laced rant where the evidence of guilt appears to rely on the men’s status as “red square” protesters, “guitar scratchers,” “rats,” and residents of the politically left-leaning Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood where the confrontation took place.
In an unusual move, Montreal Police Chief Marc Parent admitted the force faces a crisis of public confidence, suspended Constable Trudeau and relieved her of her service pistol late last week before a disciplinary process even began. While insisting the case is isolated, he said he was worried the officer posed a threat to public safety.
“How did we have to get to this incident to take action? There will be changes,” said Chief Parent, who acknowledged he hadn’t heard of the Oct. 2 incident until news reports surfaced last week. “I want to apologize to all the people who were targeted by her words. Those words are unacceptable, intolerable, and not in line with our values.”
The indiscretions caught on tape were far from the first for Constable Trudeau, who could not be located Sunday and has made no public statement on the allegations.
There was the man whose erratic – he said it was playful – stroller use in 2003 saw him separated from his daughter, tossed into the back of a police car and reported to social services. There were the hapless staffers of Sainte-Justine children’s hospital who tried and failed in 1996 to shush the officer as she shouted her way through the investigation of a sexual assault. The 14-year-old child victim ended up in tears. There was also the black woman subjected in 1999 to a string of racial epithets during an arrest for allegedly shoplifting some candy.
These incidents and several more are part of a disciplinary file and other court proceedings going back 16 years. The facts involving the man with the stroller and the black woman were confirmed, but resulted in no discipline. The Sainte-Justine incident brought a six-day suspension without pay.
“This is one more incident that will cause the police force to be discredited, and I find it sad,” said Prof. Marc Alain, a fellow at the International Centre for Comparative Criminology who has long studied the conduct, psychology and socialization of police officers.
“Too much effort will be expended on this one case, this one officer, when it’s the wider institution that requires scrutiny,” Prof. Alain said. “What are the hiring practices, what is the follow-up, what happens to a person guilty of misconduct.”
An officer with Constable Trudeau’s record should have been placed behind a desk years ago, he said. “She’s had a bad reputation for a long time.”