Lessons from Lac-Simon: Slaying of Sandy Michel by local police triggers search for answers

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Debates and arguments continue to swirl around the Anishnabe Nation of Lac-Simon over what actually happened earlier this month when local police killed a community member – and how to avoid more incidents that have been all too common in the village of 900.

Sandy Tarzan Michel, 25, was struck down by a police vehicle and shot four times before succumbing to his injuries April 6. Michel was the subject of a police investigation prior to the incident after losing custody of his children. Different reports say he took to the street with a machete and was threatening local officers before being rammed by a police truck on rue Ogima as his nephews, young family members and bystanders from the community looked on in horror.

Eerily, Michel’s older brother – Johnny Jr Michel-Dumont – was killed by police only a few hundred metres away on the same street in 2009.

Police reports obtained by La Presse state that officers responded to a report of Michel brandishing a weapon in the street, struck him with their patrol car in an effort to disarm him, then drew their weapons and fired after he got back to his feet and swung at the vehicle with his weapon.

Eyewitness accounts differ, however, saying that Michel was “stunned” when struck by the vehicle, “dragged for several metres” and dropped his weapon on the ground before he was shot while attempting to get back to his feet.

Lence Dumont-Cheezo and John Jr. Dumont-Cheezo, Michel’s nephews, arrived on the scene as the events unfolded just down the street from Lence’s home.

“They shot him directly in the head. Not in the legs or in the stomach. It’s like they wanted to kill him,” John Jr. told La Presse.

In an interview with the Nation, Michel’s sister Tina Dumont said, “He must have dropped his weapon, he was hit by the truck. Then they shot at him right away. My brother Lence was there in the street when it happened.”

For the Dumont-Michel family the loss of Sandy Michel is yet another family tragedy to endure.

“In January 2009 we lost two of my little brothers, one to suicide and one to a police shooting,” said Dumont. “Now it’s happened again. What are we going to say to the kids? How are we going to console them at the funeral? Some of them saw everything that happened.”

the Dumont-Michel family

the Dumont-Michel family

In almost identical circumstances on January 31, 2009, Lac-Simon police shot Johnny Jr. Michel as he brandished a machete. Dumont said both he and Sandy were under a lot of pressure, dealing with difficult personal circumstances and sometimes turning to drugs for escape.

“[Sandy] was a hard worker and he was always there for the family, he loved his kids,” Dumont said. “Maybe it was because he lost them that he went out of control.”

“I really hope that we’ll see some justice,” she added. “It’s the second time this happened to my family. I also hope that they’ll re-open the investigation on my younger brother [Johnny Jr.]”

Sandy Tarzan Michel

the late Sandy Tarzan Michel

Dumont does not believe either of her siblings deserved their fate but acknowledges the role that drugs and alcohol play in these situations. She also cites a lack of experience and proper training within the local police force as another contributing factor to the two incidents.

“Drugs and alcohol are a big problem here,” she said. “There’s so many people selling them, and we’re close to Val-d’Or which is like a mini-Montreal [in terms of drug trafficking]. If we cracked down on that there would be fewer issues – 20 to 25 years ago there was alcohol, but there were no drugs.”

In the past, Dumont noted, the local Algonquin police force was able to safely neutralize potentially violent situations. “They should be equipped to do that today, using [other forms of defense] like pepper spray or batons,” she suggested.

The death of Sandy Michel comes just two months after 26-year-old Lac-Simon police officer Thierry Leroux was killed while responding to a domestic dispute. A well-known local resident, Anthony Papatie, took his own life after firing on Leroux.

With three deaths in as many months, the shooting of Michel sparked uproar amongst the people of Lac-Simon. SQ forces were called in to restore order and the reactions of shock and anger lead to physical altercations and at least three arrests. When it was discovered that Lac-Simon officers had been in contact with an SQ outpost in the Vallée-de-l’Or following the scene, the investigation was handed over to the Montreal police service (SPVM) for “transparency reasons.”

Lac-Simon director general Stéphane Savard said the band’s role is one of intervention and future prevention, working with the Dumont-Michel family and other community members to ensure that they have the support that they need.

“Immediately following the events a crisis management team was put in place,” Savard said. “First they evaluated the family members, the children who were present and then anyone else who witnessed the event. These workers are available to the family and all members of the community for two to three weeks to help them sort through their emotions. Many different families and many different members of the community are affected and it was important to intervene right away.”

Asked about the tension within the community, interim Lac-Simon Chief Pamela Papatie told the Nation that the process of reconciliation and re-establishing confidence between the community and their local police force has already begun.

“We had a community meeting with the director of the SQ and a few days after the meeting you could already see police officers patrolling, playing hockey with our kids in the streets,” Papatie said. “They’re going to patrol on bikes and help us with our different sensitization efforts. We’re raising awareness in our schools and with our adults about the dangers of drugs and overconsumption.”

Lac Simon band council office

the Lac Simon band council building

Savard added that these efforts must begin with the community, but they need to be properly financed.

“We need people to work together to help their families and each other. We need to have a holistic approach because we know it’s not just one problem or one issue; all the problems we’re dealing with in Lac-Simon are inter-related,” he said. “At the root of the problem is a lack of financing for prevention. Our police force and other sectors like health and social services are all underfinanced.”

Papatie hopes to see more Indigenous communities joining together to support efforts to improve conditions in their respective communities.

“I had a lot of messages from Cree communities after the events in February,” she said. “Nemaska invited two of our teams to participate in a hockey tournament and other communities offered their support. It feels good to come back to your own community afterwards with that positive energy, knowing you’re not alone. In the end, we’re all one Nation.”

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