"When you try to hit someone in the hip and, instead, you hit him in the head — it's not a good day," Christian Gilbert said after 2016 incident.
Paul Cherry – Montreal Gazette
A Quebec Court judge ruled Thursday that a Montreal police SWAT team member did not use excessive force when he killed a man who tried to escape from a drug raid in Montreal North nearly five years ago.
In making that determination, Judge Yvan Poulin acquitted Christian Gilbert, 51, of manslaughter.
Late in the afternoon of March 31, 2016, Gilbert was part of a specially armed team called in to assist Montreal police investigators as they planned to arrest several suspects in a drug trafficking investigation centred on an apartment building on Arthur Chevrier St. In the days leading up to the raid, undercover officers purchased drugs from men inside Apartment 3 of the building.
Bony Jean-Pierre, 46, was one of many men inside the apartment when police moved in. He tried to escape from a window.
During his trial, Gilbert said his assignment was to watch the window. He was positioned behind a car armed with an ARWEN-37 launcher, a weapon designed to be less lethal than a firearm. The launcher fires large plastic projectiles.
ilbert testified that when he saw Jean-Pierre open the window he fired a warning shot that struck close to the window. He said the warning shot and the cries of “police!” from his colleagues were ignored and Jean-Pierre appeared intent on fleeing. He testified that he aimed a second shot at Jean-Pierre’s hip with the goal of knocking him back inside the apartment, but instead he struck the victim in the head. The blow was fatal and Jean-Pierre died in hospital days later.
“The Court accepts the testimony of Mr. Gilbert in that he was certain of striking the hip of Mr. Jean-Pierre and that he never had the intention of hitting him anywhere else than a ‘green zone,” Poulin said.
The reference to a “green zone” is a term used by police officers trained to use weapons like the ARWEN-37 launcher. It refers to areas considered relatively safe to hit to avoid causing death.
The Montreal police held two briefings before the raid was carried out. Gilbert and his colleagues were told the suspects might be armed and that the apartment building was, at the time, believed to be the “new base for Reds-affiliated gangs in Montreal North.”
Poulin said that “because of the situation, as it developed hastily before him, the Court concludes Mr. Gilbert was objectively and subjectively based in his belief that the occupants of the apartment, including Mr. Jean-Pierre, could have been armed.”
Gilbert bowed his head slightly toward Poulin as he concluded the police did not use excessive force. The judge cited several legal precedents where police were determined to have used justifiable force with the goal of protecting officers during a police operation as well as the general public.
The judge also noted Gilbert displayed genuine concern for Jean-Pierre’s health after he fell from the window and administered first aid before an ambulance arrived. One witness who testified said he asked Gilbert how he was doing as the ambulance headed off and he replied: “When you try to hit someone in the hip and, instead, you hit him in the head — it’s not a good day.”
Gilbert’s lawyer, Louis Belleau, said Gilbert and his family lived under a great deal of stress while he was charged.
“Finally, it ended in a favourable solution but this lasted more than four years,” Belleau told reporters. “It created enormous stress among his family.”
Belleau also said that, with Poulin’s decision, Gilbert can return to work as a police officer. But, he added, it would be difficult for Gilbert to return to the SWAT team because members are required to maintain a high level of fitness and Gilbert has been away from the squad for more than four years.