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Ex-RCMP spokesperson found dead

Pierre Lemaitre, the face and voice of the RCMP the day Robert Dziekanski died after five police-administered Taser jolts at Vancouver International Airport, died July 29 in Abbotsford.

"Our investigation remains in its very preliminary stages, and it is too soon for us to comment on a cause or classification of death at this point," B.C. Coroners Service spokeswoman Barbara McLintock told The Tyee.

Lemaitre joined the force in 1984 on his birthday, Sept. 10. A Burnaby Now profile in April 2004 said he bred dogs with his wife Sheila, a then-retired RCMP officer.

The 56-year-old, Quebec-raised sergeant was recently working in the RCMP E Division Traffic Services Unit. His death was, coincidentally, in the morning before RCMP officer Bill Bentley was acquitted of lying at a public inquiry about his role in the Oct. 14, 2007 death of the Polish immigrant.

"Sadly, Pierre passed away at his home on July 29th," said spokesman RCMP Sgt. Rob Vermeulen. "Out of respect for Pierre and his family's privacy, we are not in a position to comment further."

Lemaitre, who held a media briefing and issued a news release on Oct. 14, 2007, testified at the Braidwood Inquiry in 2009 that Corporal Dale Carr of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) was his sole source of information. Lemaitre's news release said police were called at 1:28 a.m. because a man in his 40s was in the international arrival area throwing chairs, tipping a luggage cart over, pounding on windows and yelling. It claimed the man ignored the commands of the three officers who arrived and remained violent and agitated.

"When [he] attempted to grab something off a desk, the RCMP member used the conducted energy weapon (TASER) in order to immobilize the violent man. The man fell down but continued to flail and fight," said the news release. "The officers then held the man down on the ground and placed handcuffs on him. He continued to be combative, kicking and screaming. He then became unconscious. His vital signs were monitored while waiting for emergency medical personnel. EMS arrived and continued to monitor and provide aid to the male. Moments later, he died."

Bystander Paul Pritchard recorded the event on his digital camera, which was seized by RCMP on the day of the incident and returned to Pritchard and released to media on Nov. 7, 2007. It contradicted much of the news release and showed that police were hasty in using the Taser against Dziekanski, who was armed only with a stapler. The video caused a public uproar that led to the Braidwood Inquiry. Dziekanski had wandered the international arrivals for hours as his mother waited outside. There were no Polish signs or translators available to help.

IHIT Superintendent Wayne Rideout decided on Oct. 16 that his division would take over media relations. Braidwood criticized Rideout for preventing Lemaitre from correcting the public record and issuing a policy to comment publicly on matters of process, not evidence.

"In my view, he erred in not correcting the inaccuracies right away but his error was, at most, an error in judgment," Braidwood wrote. "My principal concern is that if there was RCMP-generated information in the public domain that might influence potential witnesses, better that it be accurate information."

Braidwood's report said that Lemaitre was interviewed in French in November 2007 by Radio-Canada on a separate matter, but was asked about the Dziekanski incident.

"He took the opportunity to set the record straight and inform the public that he had misrepresented the facts in his October interviews, but that Cpl. Carr had subsequently corrected some of the inaccuracies. He would have done the same in an English-language interview if a reporter had raised the issue, but it was not up to him to call a press conference to do so."

Immediately before Carr's testimony at the inquiry on April 22, 2009, RCMP spokesman Sergeant Tim Shields apologized to the media for how media relations were handled.

Carr agreed: "I'm certainly sorry that -- absolutely sorry that misinformation got portrayed and we're here today to try and sort that out. . . I don't intend to lie to anybody ever, and absolutely I'm sorry that this has gotten to the point that it is today."

The Braidwood Inquiry led to the formation of the civilian Independent Investigations Office to probe police-involved deaths and injuries in B.C.

Vancouver-based reporter Bob Mackin regularly contributes to The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

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