Robert Dziekanski died after being tasered at Vancouver International Airport in 2007. (File photo)

Robert Dziekanski died after being tasered at Vancouver International Airport in 2007. (File photo)

RCMP spokesman spiralled into rage, depression after Dziekanski case, inquest hears

Pierre Lemaitre had been face of RCMP after Robert Dziekanski’s Taser-inflicted death at YVR in 2007

Editor’s note: The story below includes details about suicide and domestic abuse that some readers may find disturbing.

A coroner’s inquest into the death of former RCMP Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre that began Monday revealed a man struggling with depression who spiralled towards suicide in the aftermath of Robert Dziekanski’s death at Vancouver International Airport.

Lemaitre was the media spokesperson at the time when the Polish immigrant had been fatally stunned with a Taser in October 2007, making international headlines.

Inquest counsel John Orr spoke of “traumatic incidents” in Lemaitre’s career, as well as personal and relationship problems that had escalated throughout his life.

Lemaitre’s post-traumatic stress disorder could happen “not just through traumatic events, but also through feeling unsupported at work,” Orr told the jury.

RELATED: Former RCMP spokesman dies in Abbotsford

RELATED: Cause of death confirmed for former RCMP spokesman Pierre Lemaitre

RELATED: Former Mountie who fired Taser at Robert Dziekanski drops appeal of sentence

Lemaitre was 28-year veteran of the RCMP and serving in the traffic division at the time of his death.

His widow, Sheila, told the inquest that joining the RCMP had been a lifelong dream of her husband’s and that he remained proud of his job despite a tumultuous work environment that saw him transferred and demoted after reporting a sexual assault among the force.

Although Lemaitre first sought psychiatric help in the mid-1990s to help deal with a rough divorce and the ensuing estrangement of his daughters, Sheila said her husband was a happy man up until the day Dziekanski was killed.

“It was the last time I saw him pull on his uniform with pride,” Sheila told the inquest of the morning of Oct. 14, 2007, describing an morning call telling Lemaitre he was needed at YVR.

“I didn’t see that look thereafter.”

The aftermath of Dziekanski’s death

Lemaitre would give the first RCMP statement to the media about Dziekanski’s death and how four Mounties described what happened. A video shot by a bystander would emerge a month later that told a much different story.

The footage directly contradicted many of Lemaitre’s statements about Dziekanski’s “combativeness.” It also showed the Taser being fired at Dziekanski five times, more than double what Lemaitre had said.

“Pierre was very upset when he would come home after that,” Sheila said. “He was fighting to be able to correct the information.” But his superiors were stone-faced: There would be no correction.

The RCMP did not issue an apology until years later, long after Lemaitre was no longer with the media division.

A new RCMP spokesperson apologized for misleading information about how many officers were at the scene, the number of times the fired their Tasers, and Dziekanski’s attitude during the incident.

They said Lemaitre was not at fault for the inaccurate information, but was simply passing on what was told to him.

The four constables who responded were charged with perjury after the results of Braidwood Inquiry was released in 2010.

Lemaitre would later received another blow: the promotion looming in the wings for him was a no-go. The “optics” looked bad, Sheila said.

He was sent instead to the Langley traffic division where Lemaitre told his wife of “whispers” when he entered rooms and feeling he was not treated with respect.

It wasn’t any better outside of work.

Lemaitre was no longer involved with the Dziekanski case, nor working at RCMP headquarters, but his face was still all over the news.

The Braidwood Inquiry, which looked into how police handled Dziekanski’s death, and the ensuing perjury cases, made him a household name again.

Lemaitre couldn’t handle it. He went on stress leave and began to avoid public spaces.

“He wasn’t my husband anymore,” Sheila recalled. “He wasn’t the same.”

In 2012, overhearing his own inspector call him “redundant” and seeing his police support team crumble, Lemaitre left the RCMP for the last time.

‘He would never hurt a butterfly’

The real problems were at home where Lemaitre began physically abusing Sheila.

“This man who would never hurt a butterfly. He would throw me on the ground and strangle me… bash my head into the floor,” she told the inquest.

Sheila described an incident where Lemaitre “grabbed me and threw me down the cement stairs” while helping her out of the car post-surgery.

“’I told you to stay in the car,’” Sheila described him saying. “He just looked at me, he didn’t even apologize.”

Lemaitre had been seeing a psychologist in his finals months, but he was too ashamed to tell the professional about the abuse.

“’Don’t you think I’m sorry? I couldn’t help it,’” Lemaitre would tell Sheila. “’There’s a rage in my head, I can’t shut it off.’”

Lemaitre’s last days

“I actually thought he was getting better,” and making more of an effort to help her around the house, Sheila said of the weeks before his death.

There had been no mention of suicide. She would only later learn he’d been making sure she’d be okay after his death: stocking up on water and dog food, all sorts of heavy things she couldn’t do alone.

He did let his coffee – which was a “911 situation” when it got empty – run out. But the night before the day Lemaitre died was “unremarkable,” Sheila said.

On the morning of July 29, the couple had gotten up at about 8 a.m.

Sheila had gone downstairs to make breakfast, turning on the television as was the couple’s custom before muting it, and then turned off the channel once news of the verdict in the Dziekanski perjury trial came down.

Const. Bill Bentley, the first of four officers to be charged in connection to Dziekanski’s death, was found not guilty.

But it was too late. Lemaitre had seen it.

Sheila left with one of their dogs to run an errand, and came back to find something was not quite right.

“I couldn’t see Pierre and the dogs weren’t acting like he was outside. … It felt wrong.”

She rushed into the home, searched the living room, the kitchen and the bedroom but could not find her husband.

“That concern, that worry I had, just got worse,” Sheila said

Sheila paused, swallowing and seeming to choke back tears as she described going into the basement.

“And he was hanging there. Still. There was no movement.”

Sheila told the inquest of the struggle to free Lemaitre from the rope, and of a frantic call to 911.

The first responders who arrived at the home told the inquest they found him with a “deep, purple ligature mark” on his neck and a blue-and-yellow dog leash hanging on an exercise machine beside his body.

They also found medication, including drugs for anxiety and depression.

Richard Ross, the coroner who assessed Lemaitre’s death, said the death was not an overdose and the pills found in the seven vials added up to correct dosages being taken.

Lemaitre was deemed to be “over-medicated,” and had been struggling with anxiety and depression for some time.

Sheila said told the inquest Lemaitre had been desperate to find medication that would help him, and had described a “rage in his head that was burning his brain.”

“I have to try something, I can’t live like this,” Sheila recalled him telling her.

The coroner’s inquest will continue throughout the week and is not meant to find legal fault, but to prevent similar deaths.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

THC boardmember Melody McLorie and municipal councillor Coun. Duncan McMaster celebrated the start of construction on a 14-unit affordable housing development at 700 Sharp Road in February, 2021. (Westerly file photo)
Tofino Housing Corporation asks for portion of town’s MRDT funds

Tofino’s hotels and resorts collect a 3 per cent Municipal and Regional District Tax from visitors

B.C. Centre for Disease Control data showing new cases by local health area for the week of May 2-8. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island COVID-19 local case counts the lowest they’ve been all year

On some areas of Island, more than 60 per cent of adults have received a vaccine dose

Black Press Media file photo
Tofino sets municipal tax rates

Tofino’s residential property values are rising while businesses are declining.

A nurse gets a swab ready to perform a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Island’s daily COVID-19 case count drops below 10 for just the second time in 2021

Province reports 8 new COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island Wednesday

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu on May 8. (Black Press Media file photo)
Indigenous woman shot by police was holding a replica gun, says Ucluelet First Nation

Woman has been identified as a member of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Astra Zeneca vaccine waits for injection in a Feb. 3, 2021 file photo. A Langley man has become the second B.C. resident to suffer a blood clot following an injection. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
B.C. man required emergency surgery after AstraZeneca vaccination

Shaun Mulldoon suffered ‘massive blood clot’ after jab

Chilliwack’s Kile Brown, performing as drag queen Hailey Adler, dances and lip syncs in front of hundreds of people during the inaugural Chilliwack Pride Barbecue at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre on Aug. 24, 2019. Monday, May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of May 16 to 22

International Day Against Homophobia, Talk Like Yoda Day, Sea Monkey Day all coming up this week

Most Read