Three Quebec helicopter escapees captured
MONTREAL - A heavily-armed SWAT team descended on an upscale Montreal condo in the early morning hours on Sunday, busted open the door, and captured three men who police say fled a Quebec jail in a spectacular escape by helicopter two weeks ago.
The men, who were facing murder and gangsterism charges before the jailbreak, were found in a posh 10th-floor condo with a stunning view of the city.
Yves Denis, 35, Denis Lefebvre, 53, and Serge Pomerleau, 49, were arrested inside the residence at around 1:30 a.m., Quebec provincial police said.
The condo was part of a ritzy new development in Old Montreal, just steps from the historic waterfront.
A woman who lives in the same building said she watched from her balcony as the men were escorted in handcuffs into a police van. France, who gave only her first name, had recently returned from a dance class when she heard a commotion.
"I knew something important was happening," she said.
"I saw a police car arrive, then another, and then another . . . . And then I heard someone say, 'No, it's not a joke. We've got all three.'"
By midday Sunday, police had left the scene after carrying out several containers and bags. Two maintenance workers were cleaning up the home where the men were arrested.
The splintered door was ajar in its bent frame, while inside the furniture was askew, with a couch on its side and cushions scattered. Mattresses, blankets and pillows were on the floor.
Quebec provincial police Sgt. Audrey-Anne Bilodeau said investigators gathered evidence from the residence that could be used in court.
She said the investigation is ongoing and further arrests are likely.
"It could be a person who helped them escape from prison, or a person who helped them hide from us," Bilodeau said.
The three men are to appear in a Quebec City court on Monday to face fresh charges, but police didn't spell out what the new accusations would be.
They were originally arrested during Operation Crayfish in 2010, which had dismantled a network of drug traffickers. Until recently, they were awaiting trial in a detention centre near the provincial capital.
On June 7, police say a helicopter plucked three men from a courtyard of the Orsainville Detention Centre.
Interpol had recently added the trio to the red notice list, which placed them among the world's most wanted fugitives.
The Quebec government has ordered an internal investigation into the jailbreak.
Acknowledgment of the existence of a possible jailbreak conspiracy is contained in Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis Dionne's judgment dated March 24. Dionne had been asked to rule on the strict security conditions which the inmates argued impeded preparations for their defence in court.
In his ruling, which was recently made public, Dionne gave the detainees access to a secured computer for their trial preparation. The ruling also stated they didn't have to wear handcuffs during proceedings and would be allowed to go into the prison yard on weekday evenings, prison staffing permitting.
Public Security Minister Lise Theriault has said she doesn't know why the judge agreed to the request.
Theriault, who is also deputy premier, said in an interview Sunday she was "relieved" the men had finally been caught.
"We've been saying for two weeks (that) the first priority is to catch the three men, so that's done," she said, adding that they will be under heavy security as they await Monday's court appearance.
The administrative probe will also examine a similar escape last year.
In March 2013, two inmates grabbed onto a rope dropped from a helicopter at the St-Jerome detention centre and flew away. But they were quickly recaptured.
In the meantime, no-fly zones have been instituted at select prisons in the province, following a request by the provincial government.
Mathieu Lavoie, head of the union representing Quebec prison guards, said authorities will need to look closely at how they can prevent another escape.
"We need to find both short-term and long-term solutions to make sure this is an isolated incident," Lavoie said.