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Family of Black man killed by Repentigny police files to sue city for $430K in damages

At no point was Jean René Junior Olivier aggressive, lawyers say
Verity Stevenson · CBC News · Posted: Feb 28, 2023 4:47 PM EST

The family of Jean René Junior Olivier, a 37-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by Repentigny police outside his home in 2021, have filed their intent to sue the city, saying its officers were too quick to use lethal force. 
Court documents requesting approval for the lawsuit were filed in nearby Joliette Tuesday morning, two weeks after the Quebec prosecutor's office, the Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales (DPCP), announced it would not be pursuing charges against the officers involved in shooting Olivier. 
Lawyers for Olivier's mother, Marie-Mireille Bence, are requesting she be paid nearly $430,000 in damages by the City of Repentigny for the death of her son. 
Bence, who was at a news conference announcing the intent to sue, said she has cried every day since police shot Olivier on Aug. 1, 2021 outside their house. 
"My son had a steak knife in his hand. One thin man with a steak knife in his hand — and six police offers couldn't try to control him?" she told journalists.
The family and the Red Coalition, a group advocating against state violence on Black people, are also calling for an inquiry by the Quebec coroner's office into Olivier's killing. 
"The death of Jean René Junior Olivier is the culmination of a series of racial incidents between [Repentigny police] and the Black community of Repentigny," the Red Coalition said in a news release. 
According to the 16-page court document filed by Bence's lawyers, Wilerne Bernard and Marie-Livia Beaugé, Bence called 911 on Aug. 1, 2021, hoping paramedics would take her son to a hospital because he appeared to be experiencing a psychotic episode.
A friend had alerted her to his distress. When she found him inside their home, he was calm but held a small steak knife, muttering to himself that people were coming to kill him. 
At no point did he appear aggressive, according to Bence's recounting of the facts, the lawyers wrote. They said the officers were yelling at Bence to put the knife down and that they were putting pressure on him, without calling on his friend to help make him co-operate.
Police intervention was short and violent: lawyers
Police reported that shortly after their arrival Olivier dropped his knife but picked it up again after an officer began to approach him.
The officers asked Bence and Olivier's friend to leave the scene and go to the backyard. They heard three shots seconds later. 
"This intervention of incredible violence was of a short duration," the documents say.
"It is part of a context of a Black person with precarious social status, grappling with mental health issues. It's a question of a very vulnerable person who needed help," said Beaugé at the news conference. 
Olivier's death shocked and outraged members of Repentigny's Black community, whose relationship with local police has been strained for years.
In an interview with CBC News in the summer of 2022, a year after her son's death, Bence said she was haunted by the sound of gunfire erupting just outside her home — and the decision she had made to call 911. 
"[For them] to have murdered my son, the way they murdered him, it's really unacceptable," she said.
Bence said Olivier had told her several times that he believed racism was rampant inside the local police force. At the time, she disagreed with him. She said that now she has no doubt race played a role in his death.
According to the Quebec prosecutors' office's version of events — published earlier this month when it announced it would not be pursuing charges against police — the officers calmly attempted to convince Olivier to drop the knife for about 15 minutes. 
The office's summary said Olivier did put the knife down and then picked it back up again several times. He picked it up one final time and began to run toward the officers. 
The DPCP said a paramedic on the scene had filmed the intervention and that the events captured by the video corresponded to what the witnesses interviewed by the police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), had said. 
Coroner's investigation underway
Quebec's Public Security Ministry said Tuesday it would not be commenting on the calls for an inquiry into the police shooting. The City of Repentigny also declined to comment on the intent to sue. 
The Quebec coroner's office said an investigation — not a public inquiry — by coroner Karine Spénard is underway.
Once the probe is complete, Spénard will issue a report exposing the causes and circumstances that led to Olivier's death and would be able to make recommendations for to avoid similar deaths, Jake Lamotta Granato, a spokesperson for the office said in an email. 
A public inquiry is still possible if the province's chief coroner, Pascale Descary, orders one, Granato said. 
Mother calls for changes to police watchdog
Investigations by Quebec's police watchdog, which was created in 2016, have rarely led to charges against police officers. 
A CBC News analysis published in 2019 found that of the 126 cases the BEI had investigated at the time, non had resulted in criminal charges. 
Tuesday, Bence said she wants the BEI to hold police officers accountable. 
"It's always the police officers who are right. I want things to change so that no other parent lives what I am going through at the moment."

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