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(en) Canada, Montreal cop found "not guilty" in death of homeless man

From Jaggi Singh <jaggi@tao.ca>
Date Sun, 4 Aug 2002 08:44:55 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Remember Jean-Pierre Lizotte - The "Poet of Bordeaux Prison"

MONTREAL, August 3, 2002 -- This past Thursday afternoon, a Quebec
Superior Court jury acquitted Montreal Police Constable Giovanni Stante of
manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm, in the
death of Jean-Pierre Lizotte, a 45-year-old homeless man. The six-woman,
six-man jury announced their "not guilty" verdict after just three hours
of deliberations. The trial had lasted almost four months, and involved
over one hundred witnesses.

On the evening of September 5, 1999, Jean-Pierre Lizotte was arrested by
Constable Stante and his partner Constable Sylvain Fouquet (who was never
charged) outside the Shed Cafe on 3515 St-Laurent Boulevard. The Shed Cafe
is a trendy, expensive bar-eatery on a gentrified stretch of St-Laurent,
north of Sherbrooke Street, that is dominated by high-priced restaurants,
boutiques and bars full of nauseating yuppies and Euro-trash wannabies.

Lizotte was allegedly causing a disturbance. The police were called, and
with the help of bar bouncer Steve Deschatelets, Lizotte was beaten and
eventually thrown into a police van "like a sack of potatos" (to quote a
civilian witness at the trial). During the scuffle, Lizotte was held
immobile by a "full-nelson" by the bouncer, and was punched in the face
"at least twice" (according to Stante's own testimony). Stante claimed
that he was kicked, while other witnesses claimed that Stante excessively
beat Lizotte, leaving behind a pool of blood.

Lizotte immediately lost feeling in his legs, and was taken to the
hospital. A few hours later, hospital doctors diagnosed Lizotte as being
paralyzed from the neck down. He died in hospital more than one month
later due to bronchial pneumonia caused by severe spinal cord injuries
(according to the coroner). However, the police did not reveal Lizotte's
death, as required by law, until 53 days later. Stante and Deschatelets
were not charged until more than six months after Lizotte's death.

[Deschatelets is still due to face the same charges of manslaughter,
aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm, in addition to simple
assault, later this fall.]

Stante, 35, will return immediately to "administrative duties" with the
Montreal Police, according to Police Chief Michel Sarrazin. Meanwhile the
head of the Montreal Police Fraternity, Georges Painchaud, declared after
the verdict that he was "happy that this painful moment ended in a
satisfying manner, as much for justice and society as for Giovanni
[Stante] and his family."

The crown prosecutor, Michel Breton, has not yet decided if he will appeal
the verdict.


The Lizotte case, and the Stante trial, has been closely watched by
Montreal social justice activists, particularly by the members of the
Collective Opposed to Police (COBP). The Lizotte death resonated with
Montreal's so-called "marginalized" community, particularly the homeless,
street youth, and their advocates. Audrey Cote, from the Montreal street
persons newspaper, "L'Itineraire", declared the verdict "completely
horrible" and "catastrophic".

Lizotte is one of several men who have died, in suspicious circumstances,
by the bullets, batons and fists of the Montreal police in the little more
than a decade preceding the death of Lizotte. An incomplete list of
victims include:

* Anthony Griffin: An unarmed 19-year old black student who was shot in
the face and killed in 1987 in the parking lot of a police station.

* Marcellus Francois: A 24 year-old Haitian immigrant who was shot and
killed in downtown Montreal in 1991 by a tactical team with M-16 machine
guns. Francois was sitting, unarmed, in his car in what the police called
a case of "mistaken identity".

* Martin Suazo: A 23 year-old, whose family was from Ecuador, Suazo was
shot in the back of the head and killed in 1995. He had been arrested for
allegedly shoplifting a pair of jeans, and was lying - face down - on the
ground when he was shot. The police officer in question claimed his gun
went off "accidentally".

* Richard Barnabe: A taxi driver, Barnabe was distressed and allegedly
tried to break into a church to talk to a priest in 1993. He was beaten
into a coma while in custody by the Montreal police, and finally died of
massive head injuries in 1996.

No police officers were ever charged for murder in any of the above cases.

The anger at police impunity spilled over on March 15, 2000 -- after
Lizotte's death, but before Stante and Deschatelets would be charged. On
that day, crown prosecutors announced that potential charges in the death
of Lizotte would be referred to a judge for a pre-inquiry, a very rare
legal maneuver, and almost exactly five months after Lizotte died. The
names of the officers under investigation had not yet even been formally

As it happens, an annual anti-police brutality demonstration was held the
same evening. In anger at Lizotte's death, and the preferential legal
treatment for the police officers implicated in murder, the demonstration
of about 400 participants marched past the Shed Cafe, and towards the
nearby police station where Stante had been stationed. There, some
protesters proceeded to smash the windows of the station with rocks,
bottles and other items. One protester, armed with a squeegee, took out
the remaining windows and yelled, "That one was for Jean-Pierre Lizotte!"


Stante's trial was monitored by members of the Collective Opposed to
Police Brutality (COBP) who released a statement on August 2, 2002,
entitled "COBP renders it verdict: Stante is guilty" (available in French
at: http://www.tao.ca/~cobp/02-aout2002.html).

According to COBP, the 53-day delay in acknowledging Lizotte's death, and
other elements of a potential cover-up by senior officers, were never
addressed at the trial. However, the trial did reveal that the boss of the
Shed Cafe, Stewart Steinberg, tried to intimidate his manager into
remaining silent about Stante's punches against Lizotte.

At trial it was also revealed that the so-called investigation by the
Internal Division of the Montreal Police attempted to pin the blame for
Lizotte's death on the Shed Cafe's bouncer.

COBP observed that at the trial Stante's lawyer, Michael Stober, attempted
to put Lizotte himself on trial, portraying him as the aggressor, and
frequently alluding to his 26-year criminal record. Of course, Lizotte
never had a chance to defend himself from those judicial attacks. The
recent COBP communique pointedly asks:

"And if Jean-Pierre Lizotte had survived the assault of September 5, 1999,
and if he had attended the trial sitting in a wheelchair as a paraplegic,
would the jury have had the nerve to render such a cowardly and
reactionary not guilty verdict?"

The communique goes on to say:

"For COBP, the absence of Mr. Lizotte at the trial was in itself heavy in
significance and testimony to the barbarity to which he was a martyr."

COBP implies that the jury was "duped" by Stante's dishonest testimony,
particularly his claim that Lizotte was not fully immobilized by the "full
nelson" when he decided to beat him (or, in Stante's testimony, punch him
"at least twice"). Stante's claim contradicted the testimony of at least
ten other witnesses.

COBP remarks that Stante was never imprisoned during the whole process,
proving the double standard when police are before the criminal justice
system. Working people, street youth and the homeless, facing much less
serious charges, are routinely jailed in Montreal. Moreover, COBP observes
that the not guilty verdict in the police beating and death of a homeless
man contributes to the risks faced by street people who are the constant
victims of police harassment and brutality.


Stante's lawyer attempted to put a dead man on trial in defence of an
accused killer cop. Meanwhile, Montreal's mainstream media was complicit
in the process, never trying to humanize Jean-Pierre Lizotte; the Gazette
consistently referred to him as a "vagrant" in their trial coverage.

However, Lizotte's friends and acquaintances -- including those active in
the street persons magazine, "L'Itineraire", as well as former prisoners
at Montreal's Bordeaux Prison -- have attempted to provide a more complete
portrait of Jean-Pierre Lizotte beyond terms like "vagrant", "homeless
man" or "victim of police brutality".

Lizotte had problems with drugs, and had been in and out of the prison
system for over two decades. He was also a poet and writer. Lizotte was a
frequent contributor to "l'Itineraire".

He wrote many poems -- in a rhyming and often humorous style -- that touch
on personal themes: his difficult childhood, his lack of a caring mother,
depression, his HIV-positive status, his drug problems, along with
subjects like music, prison and revolt. Some of Lizotte's poetry, in
French, is accessible at: http://www.souverains.qc.ca/recidivi.html and

Dubbed by fellow inmates "the poet of Bordeaux," Lizotte was a consistent
contributor to Souverains Anonymes -- a community radio show recorded at
Bordeaux Prison that includes music, spoken work and poetry.

After hearing of his death, one of Lizotte's poems, "Bateau", was set to
music and performed by fellow prisoners at Bordeaux in homage to their
fallen comrade and former fellow inmate.

The producers of Souverains Anonymes recall something Lizotte wrote to
Abla Farhoud -- a Quebec playwright, writer and actress, originally from
Lebanon -- who had participated in one show. Lizotte was responding to the
words of the main character of Farhoud's novel, "Le bonheur a la queue
glissante", who observed, "My country is that place where my children are

Lizotte wrote: "Hello Abla, my name is JP Lizotte. For the 21 years that
I've been returning inside, prison has become my country. When I leave it,
I become an immigrant! I experience all that an immigrant might experience
when they miss their country of origin. When I'm inside, I want to leave.
And when I'm outside, I miss the inside. Sometimes I say to myself, "If I
had a grandmother or a grandfather, things would have been different for
me." But how can you have a grandmother when you've hardly had either a
mother or father. The memories that I have make me cry, so I won't tell
them to you. But, a grandmother, like the one in your novel, is not given
to everyone ... So, I say to everyone who has a grandmother or
grandfather, take advantage of it ... Thanks." [The French text of
Lizotte's note is available at: http://www.souverains.qc.ca/recidivi.html]

Lizotte had written a personal memoir of sorts about his itinerant life
called, "Voler par amour, pleurer en silence" ("Stealing for love, crying
in silence"). The producers of Soverains Anonymes mention that it was
Lizotte's dream to have his book published.

After Lizotte's death, they wrote: "Jean-Pierre is dead, but it's always
possible to realize his dream."

Jean-Pierre Lizotte -- 1954-1999. No justice, no peace.

-- written by Jaggi Singh (jaggi@tao.ca)

[NOTE: Many of the reported facts above are based on reports and
communiques by the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality, as well as
mainstream news reports in the Montreal Gazette, La Presse and Le Devoir.
All credit to the members of COBP for their tireless and dedicated work in
following and publicizing the case of Jean-Pierre Lizotte, as well as
monitoring and denouncing police brutality in Montreal.]

Collective Opposed to Police Brutality: http://www.tao.ca/~cobp
Souverains Anonymes: http://www.souverains.qc.ca

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