Police testify at coroner’s inquiry into murder of sergeant by man with history of mental illness

Click to play video: 'Funeral procession honours fallen Quebec police officer Sgt. Maureen Breau'
Funeral procession honours fallen Quebec police officer Sgt. Maureen Breau
RELATED: Thousands of police officers from across North America descended on Trois-Rivieres, Que., on Thursday to pay tribute to Sureté du Québec Sargeant Maureen Breau. The 42 year-old was killed in the line of duty last month. The mother of two was remembered as loyal friend, wife and a police officer full of potential. Global's Dan Spector reports. – Apr 13, 2023

A Quebec provincial police officer told a coroner’s inquest on Monday that there isn’t enough collaboration between police and the mental health system on matters of public safety.

Charles Côté said that often, when he’s tried to get basic information about a patient for public security purposes, he’s rebuffed by health workers who cite confidentiality.

Côté testified at the inquiry examining the killing of Sgt. Maureen Breau, 42, who was stabbed to death with a kitchen knife on March 27, 2023, by Isaac Brouillard Lessard, a man with a history of mental health issues.

Brouillard Lessard, 35, was shot dead by police moments after the attack in Louiseville, Que., about 100 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

“At this point, we’re fighting to hold up a system that doesn’t work very well, this is the reality in Quebec,” Côté said. He held back tears and said, “I’m here for Maureen.”

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Côté responded to a 911 call at Brouillard Lessard’s apartment on Dec. 30, 2022, days after he had moved to Louiseville. He had called police after a search for a lost cat turned into an altercation between himself and a neighbour.

The incident ended with apologies and without charge, but Côté filed an internal bulletin after learning from a provincial police databank that Brouillard Lessard was being followed by the province’s mental health board.

Côté said he learned from one health-care worker that Brouillard Lessard had a history of violence against employees of the health system. But Côté said other workers who had been assigned to Brouillard Lessard’s case refused to speak about him.

In his internal bulletin, Côté urged other officers to “act with caution” with Brouillard Lessard. The police advisory was circulated by email and was still posted on a bulletin board in the officer’s briefing room when Breau was killed a few months later.

Côté was one of several police officers who had interacted with Brouillard Lessard who will testify in the coming days.

On Jan. 30, his partner, Gabriel Ménard, told the inquiry that officers often face a “wall” when trying to get information about mental health cases.

Ménard had run into Brouillard Lessard on Dec. 30, 2022 — before Côté arrived at the apartment — when the man approached him about help finding his cat.

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Also Monday, the inquiry heard from Élodie Lévesque, a patrol officer who had visited Brouillard Lessard three days prior to the stabbing, after the man’s parents had called police hoping to have him forcibly hospitalized because of his deteriorating mental health. He had been sending threatening texts and making phone calls to his mother and other family members.

Lévesque said while police noted a katana-style sword and another knife in his apartment on the March 24, 2023, visit, they did not feel they had any reason to arrest Brouillard Lessard despite his parents’ concerns.
Several officers are scheduled to testify this week, including Breau’s three colleagues who were with her the night she was killed; one of the three officers was seriously injured.

Police had four calls involving Brouillard Lessard between December 2022 and March 27, 2023, when they went to arrest him on charges of uttering threats and violating probation.

The inquiry has previously heard that Brouillard Lessard had been found not criminally responsible five times for offences in 2014 and 2018. He had also spent a year at a Montreal psychiatric hospital and been followed by the province’s mental health review board — the Commission d’examen des troubles mentaux — since 2014.

Last month, Quebec workplace health and safety inspectors told the inquiry that officers didn’t plan properly before attempting to arrest Brouillard Lessard.


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