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 anger, depression after Dziekanski case, inquest hears

Pierre Lemaitre had been the face of the RCMP after the Polish immigrant’s Taser-inflicted 2007 death

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 when the Polish immigrant was 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 a 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 they 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 final 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 OK 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 told the inquest that 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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Driver crashes vehicle twice in one day near Princeton

Abbotsford woman, 29, wasn’t injured in either incident

An opossum (not the one in picture) at Elizabeth’s Wildlife Center in Abbotsford is included in an episode of CBC TV’s The Nature of Things on Jan. 29. (Submitted photo)
Elizabeth’s Wildlife Center in Abbotsford part of CBC TV program on wind

The Nature of Things episode includes opossum that uses scent to find a meal

Abbotsford Police is investigating after bullet casings were found following a shots fired call at the intersection of Purcell Avenue and Wells Gray Avenue on Tuesday night. (File photo)
Bullet casings found after shots-fired call in Abbotsford on Tuesday

Abbotsford Police Department seeking witnesses and CCTV footage following shooting

A Chilliwack driver’s vehicle was impounded for seven days after an excessive speeding violation. (RCMP photo)
RCMP catch Chilliwack driver doing 60 km/h over posted speed limit

The motorist was hit with a big ticket and a seven day vehicle impoundment

UFV assistant kinesiology professor Dr. Iris Lesser exercises along Chilliwack's Vedder Rotary Trail with her daughter Kaia. (UFV photo)
UFV study finds women with reduced physical activity had more mental health struggles during COVID pandemic

The study suggested women suffered more than men as gyms, parks and playgrounds shut down

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

BC Place Stadium in a photo posted to cisc-icca.ca.
Roof of BC Place a stage for performers during online music festival

‘This will be the first time any artists have performed from the 204-foot iconic Vancouver rooftop’

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Most Read