Fury erupts over police killing. Teen shot: Montreal North streets ablaze as youths riot

Posted by admin on Aug 11th, 2008

Amy Luft, Christopher Maughan and Julia Kilpatrick. The Gazette. Monday, August 11, 2008

The mother of an 18-year-old shot and killed by a police officer in broad daylight is demanding explanations from the Montreal police force. But people in the neighbourhood where Fredy Villenueva was fatally wounded weren’t waiting for explanations last night. Their fury erupted into a riot in Montreal North, with knots of protesters roaming the streets and setting fire to cars and garbage barricades. The Montreal riot police squad was called out, and hundreds of officers formed a perimeter four or five blocks away from the Ground Zero at Rolland Blvd. and Pascal St.

Rioters vandalized the local fire station and set several cars outside ablaze. The firefighters were evacuated. A building kitty-corner to the fire station and community centre burst into flames shortly after 11.

Onlookers cheered as a van went up in flames.

There was an unconfirmed report that one police officer was injured, but no immediate word of arrests.

Phalanxes of white-helmeted police officers patrolled the streets and the park where Villanueva was shot.

“I just don’t understand why the police took my son’s life,” Lilian Villanueva said yesterday as tears streamed down her face. She could barely speak between sobs. Her husband, Gilberto, didn’t speak at all – he just sat at the kitchen table, staring into space.

Their son, Fredy, died at Sacré Coeur hospital Saturday night after a confrontation with officers near Henri Bourassa Park in Montreal North.

A Montreal police statement said officers felt threatened by Fredy, his brother Dany and a number of friends, which is why they reacted with force.But Fredy’s sisters said they couldn’t figure out how anybody could have felt threatened by their younger brother. They said Fredy was a low-key kid whose favourite activity was playing video games.

“He was shy. He wasn’t the type of guy who would antagonize a police officer,” said Julissa, 25. “He didn’t like clubbing or drinking beer. He was a quiet guy; he liked to stay in.”

That’s why Patricia, 27, found herself racking her brain for answers to unanswered questions.

“Why? Why did the police officer need to kill him?” she asked. “Why couldn’t she have fired warning shots?”

The family is still trying to piece together the events that led to Fredy Villanueva’s death.

The Sûreté du Québec, which has taken over the investigation because it involves Montreal police, remained tight-lipped about the incident.

“I can’t tell you what they were doing, we don’t even know how many (teenagers) there were,” said Sgt. Gregory Gomez Del Prado, a spokesperson for the provincial police.

According to Gomez Del Prado, two police officers in a cruiser approached a group of young people gathered in the parking lot behind the Henri Bourassa arena, near Rolland and Pascal just after 7 p.m. Saturday.

Witnesses said police arrived while the group was calmly throwing dice behind the arena, next to a field where children were playing soccer. The witnesses said the police officers singled out Dany Villanueva. They tried to search him and when he resisted, a male officer pushed him to the ground and arrested him, some teens said.

“He was standing up, and then the police pushed him to the ground because he was too aggressive. He was trying to fight them,” said Samuel Meideiros, 18, who was skateboarding nearby when he saw police arrive. He said he didn’t know the youths involved, but watched the encounter and captured part of the action in a video on his cellphone.

The SQ would not reveal the reason for the arrest. There were conflicting reports about which officer fired the shots.

Claude Laguerre, who said he was one of the young people involved in the incident, said no one in the group made physical contact with the police officers.

“We were six guys and two girls. We approached, but we didn’t touch them.”

Laguerre said the officers became aggressive within 30 seconds of getting out of their car.

“They didn’t ask (our) names, they just got aggressive,” said Laguerre, who said the male police officer fired without any warning. He added that after the police officer shot, he continued to point his gun at the group. Laguerre said no one in the group was armed.

Other witnesses said Fredy and about a half-dozen other young people confronted the police to try to separate them from Dany, who later was placed in the back seat of the cruiser. They said he shattered the rear driver’s side window with his feet, because his hands were bound.

Neighbours reported hearing three or four gunshots before the group scattered.

“It turned bad,” said Kassem Hamad, 22, who identified himself as a close friend of the victims. “The police officer took out her gun without thinking. … It just happened too fast.”

A statement issued by Mont-real police late Saturday explained their version of events. The police said the officers were surrounded by youths when they tried to arrest one suspect.

“At one point, the group began to move and a good number of individuals charged toward the police and threatened them,” the statement said. “One of the police officers present then fired in the direction of the suspects, striking three of them.”

The Villanueva family says the police didn’t even call them to let them know Fredy had been shot.

“A friend of Fredy’s called his aunt and then she called here – that’s how we found out,” his mother said.

SQ officials maintain a call was made.

Yesterday morning, friends and neighbours gathered near the scene to speak out about what they saw as a senseless tragedy. “(I’m) blown over. Shocked. I can’t really believe it,” Hamad said. “These were peaceful guys who always hung out around here.”

Diana Serrano, 18, fighting back tears as she stood in the parking lot where her longtime friend and former classmate was shot, said: “They were all friends from childhood – they were just protecting themselves.

“I know there are gangs here and there are drugs going on, but … they were only playing marbles, so it’s really not fair what they did. He didn’t sell (drugs), he didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink. … He was really smart. … It’s heartbreaking.”

In the centre of the parking lot, a blood stain darkened the pavement, surrounded by shattered glass. Purple paramedic gloves were discarded nearby, and a pink pillow lay forgotten among scraps of paper shifting in the breeze.

Back at Patricia’s Laval home, the family vowed to take legal action against Montreal police.

“We’re going to sue. This can’t continue to happen. Fredy died for no reason,” Patricia Villanueva said.

Fo Niemi, co-founder of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, also called for a public inquiry into the shooting.

“The use of a gun seems completely unjustified,” he said. “We want to know whether this is standard police technique.”

Members of an impromptu gathering last night at the corner of Pascal St. and Lapierre Ave. said they felt police are too aggressive with young people.

“This wasn’t a street gang. He was a child,” said Johanne, who did not want to provide her last name.

A woman called Nancy added: “When kids see that, they’re going to hate police. I’m going to tell my kids, ‘If you see a police car, go away.’ I don’t trust them.”

Julissa said Fredy was on a waiting list to enroll in technical school. He kept himself busy helping out around the house.

“We have a sister who is disabled, so he spent a lot of time at home taking care of her.”

Fredy wanted to become an electrical mechanic like his father, who works in an auto garage in Montreal North.

The Villanuevas immigrated from Honduras in 1998, living in Montreal North before moving to Longueuil and, eventually, to a house in Repentigny.

Yesterday, they said their faith in their adoptive country had been shaken to its core.

“We thought we were going to be better off,” Julissa said. “We thought there was justice here. We thought the police were supposed to protect us.”


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