Fatal shooting of OPP officer was no ambush, say lawyers for accused

·4 min read
A court sketch shows suspect Alain Bellefeuille at left during his first court appearance on May 11, 2023. The 39-year-old's legal team is speaking about the shooting of Sgt. Eric Mueller, saying it was not an 'ambush' as police have claimed. (CBC - image credit)
A court sketch shows suspect Alain Bellefeuille at left during his first court appearance on May 11, 2023. The 39-year-old's legal team is speaking about the shooting of Sgt. Eric Mueller, saying it was not an 'ambush' as police have claimed. (CBC - image credit)

Lawyers for the man accused of killing an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer east of Ottawa say the shooting was not an "ambush" as police have characterized it.

In the early morning hours of May 11, Sgt. Eric Mueller and two of his colleagues responded to a home in Bourget, Ont., after someone reported hearing a gunshot, the OPP said.

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Within minutes of their arrival, the OPP said all three officers were shot by someone at the home. The officers were taken to hospital in Ottawa. Mueller died from his injuries.

"This was not an ambush," wrote John Hale and Cassandra Richards, the lawyers for Alain Bellefeuille. They shared a statement with CBC on Friday, which was first reported by The Ottawa Citizen.

"We're very concerned that the public, including potential jury members for any trial down the road, might already have made up their minds that this was an ambush," Hale later said in an interview.

"It's a pretty loaded term that implies essentially that Mr. Bellefeuille set a trap, that he lured police officers for the purpose of shooting them. And this was absolutely not the case."

Bellefeuille, 39, has been charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

OPP refused to make any further comments Friday, saying the matter is now before the courts.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

Bellefeuille in bed when police entered home: lawyer

Hale said he and Richards have had a couple of lengthy meetings with Bellefeuille to discuss what happened on May 11.

Bellefeuille did not expect police to show up at his home, nor was he the person who had first reported a gunshot, they said.

"He had worked a full day and had recently gone to bed with plans of getting up early in the morning for work," according to the statement.

"He was in his bed with the lights off, falling asleep, when one or more officers entered his home."

The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press

Bellefeuille only contacted 911 as "a call for help" after the shooting, they added.

The lawyers' statement does not detail how the officers were shot. Bellefeuille remains in custody and will be back in court June 13.

"Any other information about Mr. Bellefeuille's actions that morning, including the hours leading up to it, will be reserved for trial," Hale and Richards said.

OPP commissioner's comments

On the day of the shooting, the OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique held a news conference where he stated Mueller and his colleagues were the victims of an "ambush" when arriving at the scene.

When pressed about that wording, Carrique said, "That's exactly how I would describe it based on the information that I have.

"When three officers arrive on scene and within minutes are shot, one is killed, another is very seriously and critically injured, and another injured to the point of requiring medical attention for simply arriving on scene, I categorize that as an ambush," he said.

One of the two officers was released from hospital last week, while the other remains in hospital in stable condition, the OPP said Thursday.

WATCH | OPP Commissioner speaks after shooting:

After the shooting, other officers arrived and arrested Bellefeuille "without incident," according to the OPP.

It remains unclear what happened between the time the officers were shot and the time their backup arrested Bellefeuille.

Ontario's police watchdog has said evidence indicates one of the surviving officers fired their weapon during the incident, although any further details have not been released.

Shooting becoming 'politicized,' says lawyer

The OPP held a police funeral for Mueller at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on Thursday that drew thousands of grieving police officers.

John Cerasuolo, the president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association, spoke at the event and addressed the two surviving officers, again using the term "ambush."

"In an ambush situation, no one can see this coming. You both did the best that you could, and we thank you for that," Cerasuolo said.

The funeral also was attended by several high-ranking public officials, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

It would be unfortunate to see this really tragic incident politicized, but that seems to be what's happening. - John Hale

"Attacks against police officers will never, ever be tolerated in this province," Ford said at the funeral. "As premier, I'll do whatever it takes to protect you and the communities you serve."

Hale said he and Richards decided to wait until after the police funeral before making any statements about the case.

"It would be unfortunate to see this really tragic incident politicized, but that seems to be what's happening," Hale said.

Little is known about Bellefeuille, but Hale said he is a skilled labourer known for the quality of his work.

"This is an outlier in his life," Hale said. "There's no sign along the way that would show that anything like this would have ever happened."