A Montreal police officer who has been cited by the provincial police ethics committee after telling a vulnerable man he’d tie him to a pole in freezing weather defended himself Thursday by saying a video that captured the moment tells only a fraction of the story.
Const. Pierre-Luc Gauthier gave his side of the story, before a public tribunal, for the first time since the video went viral in January 2014. He was called as a witness in the hearing before the Comité de déontologie policière where he and his partner, Vincent Marcotte, have been accused of violating Quebec’s Police Ethics Code. Thirty minutes before the video was recorded, Gauthier and Marcotte responded to a call about the man (whose identity cannot be published due to a publication ban) because he had been harassing people inside the Jean-Talon métro station on Jan. 2, 2014, a day when the afternoon temperature was recorded at minus 24 C.
A passerby recorded video on a smartphone as Gauthier told the man, dressed only in a T-shirt and jean shorts, that he’d tie him to a pole if he had to respond to another call about him. At one point in the video, which recorded just under a minute of the interaction, Gauthier could be heard telling the man, in a stern voice, “look me in the eyes” while using what Gauthier and Marcotte characterized as “harsh words.”
Gauthier said that when he told the man (who has often been mistakenly referred to as a homeless person in media reports) he’d be tied to a pole, he was trying to make sure the man was listening. The video does not show how, according to Gauthier, the man was offered a ride home, offered a chance to keep warm in their patrol car and had refused to go home to a nearby apartment on Drolet St.
When they arrived at the métro station they found the man on the platform “aggressively” soliciting people for money. He was wearing a Santa Claus hat on his head and his T-shirt was draped over his shoulder.
Marcotte asked the man to put his T-shirt back on and he obliged. Gauthier then asked him for his name and date of birth, which the man supplied without hesitation. But as Gauthier began to inform the man that he was violating a rule prohibiting people in the métro from soliciting money, and therefore could be expelled from the station, he began to notice something.
“I started to realize (the man) had a problem, a slight mental health problem,” Gauthier said, adding he started to do an evaluation, as part of his police training, to determine if the man posed a threat to himself or others. The man knew it was the day after New Year’s Day, that it was very cold outside and that it was dangerous to be lightly dressed that day.
Gauthier said he considered issuing the man a fine, but ultimately decided “that wouldn’t have solved the problem.”
“I explained that if he continued to harass métro users we’d arrest him,” Gauthier said, adding the man consented to having his name run through a police database.
After leading the man outside the station, Gauthier continued, he opened a back door to his patrol car and motioned for the man to take a seat while Marcotte did the background check. The man refused the offer. Marcotte found out the man had a criminal record, but no outstanding warrants. He was also not subject to any court-ordered conditions at the time.
Gauthier said he had run out of options. There was no reason to arrest the man and he refused to be taken to a hospital or to return home. The man said he planned to go to a nearby Tim Hortons or Subway to warm up, but Gauthier figured he would solicit more people in those restaurants.
Gauthier and the man were outside for three minutes and the police officer could find no solution to the problem. He said he told the man to go back inside the métro station briefly to warm up and then return home but, at that point, he doubted his words were registering. That, according to Gauthier, is when the passerby started recording.
“If things don’t work when you go by the book, you look for other solutions,” Gauthier said in an attempt to explain what he said. “It’s like when you’re talking to a child and you realize they don’t understand, so you talk to them in a more simple language.”
Lawyers for both sides in the case are scheduled to make closing arguments on Friday.