Yves Dambreville was a kaleidoscope of identities -- Boston police officer, community liaison, Haitian, American, veteran, family man. The 66-year-old former officer was shot and killed in Port-au-Prince Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Dambreville, a 33-year veteran of the police force and a committed advocate for the Haitian and larger Caribbean communities, has left behind a legacy of cultural outreach, friends and coworkers said.
“We extend our sincere condolences to his friends and family,” the State Department wrote in a statement. The department said it was “providing all appropriate consular services,” but declined to provide further information, citing privacy concerns.
Dambreville was well respected in Boston for the work he did as Mayor Raymond Flynn's liaison to the Caribbean/Haitian community.
Former mayor Flynn said Dambreville "did an amazing job in helping unite Boston' growing Haitian community in the early 1980s."
"He was the Caribbean community's first official link to Boston City Hall and the Mayor's Office in providing educational and job training opportunities to hundreds of people," said Flynn, in a statement on Thursday. "Even to this very day, Haitian-American people stop me on the streets to say how much they loved Yves and appreciated everything we tried to do for them. From getting them in job training programs, apprentice union jobs, become taxi drivers or helping their kids get an education. We helped them and now they are an important part of a strong community of Boston families."
A friend of his since the early 1980s, Joseph Chery worked with Dambreville in City Hall. Chery told the Reporter that Dambreville was a fair and dogged advocate, and immensely proud of his Haitian American identity.
"We have lost a true statesman, a real gentleman who was fully committed to his community," Chery said. "He was a very dear friend to a whole lot of people who believed in connecting people, building bridges, and truly believed in advocating for the Haitian community and Caribbean community as a whole."
Dambreville focused on elevating each member of the community, Chery said; "Nobody was ever too little."
The Caribbean community is reeling from the news, passed along through concerned phone calls and social media, said Shirley Shillingford, president of the Caribbean American Carnival Association of Boston Inc., which organizes the Caribbean festival taking place in just two days.
“It was like I heard about the death of my brother last night,” Shillingford said. Dambreville was a long-time friend with whom she worked closely while he was a liaison, and remained supportive of during a series of hearings resulting from a civil lawsuit in 2007.
He was a steady presence in her family's life, Shillingford said. “He was there during my daughter's graduation graduation, sweet sixteen, you name it," she said. All who spoke expressed their condolences for Dambreville’s wife, Ingrid, and their children.
Dambreville’s path was informed by his Boston roots and his Haitian descent. His long history of service includes Army service in Vietnam, after which he returned to Boston to join the police. While on the force, he became the then-Mayor Flynn’s liason, his tenure ending soon after the mayoral torch was passed to Thomas Menino.
“He loved both countries and he gave to both,” said former state representative Marie St. Fleur. "He gave to both wholeheartedly. You go to war for a country, you love your country."
She added, “He loved the country of his birth… he saw its potential.”
That potential meant so much to Dambreville that he returned to Haiti as part of a UN program training local Haitian police. He taught them the best of American police practices, Chery said, not just day-to-day policing but also how to handle crime scenes and interview witnesses.
Brian Concannon Jr., the executive director of the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, said in a statement that Dambreville had been an effective teacher.
"I worked with an elite team of Haitian police investigators that Officer Dambreville trained. They were excited about his teaching- they found him uniquely able to adapt lessons from Boston to their very different reality in Haiti. He was quickly able to establish trust and a strong relationship. "
Before his death, Dambreville had been preparing for a new leg of his life. He retired from his post in the B-3 Mattapan district in 2012, and was working on building a house in Haiti where his wife could eventually join him. "All he talked about was his retirement to Haiti," Chery said, as Dambreville anticipated helping a new generation of locals in his home country.
He traveled between the US and Haiti regularly, and his plight is a familiar fear for many for Caribbean descent who may want to return home, Shillingford said. "The difficulty is you come to this country, work hard to save up your dollars to go back to your own country, and you go back to be gunned down."
In the same incident, a former police chief was reportedly shot and killed.
And those stateside are reckoning with the violent death of a man they say was full to the brim with compassion and paved the way for a now-lauded model of community-first police outreach.
"I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Yves Dambreville who was an important, pioneering figure in Boston's Haitian community over the last four decades," said Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who is married to Reporter editor Bill Forry. "Dambreville was one of the first Haitian Boston Police officers and was a key liaison between the city's emerging Caribbean community and city government. He was a friend and mentor to many that followed in his footsteps.”
Police commissioner William B. Evans also extended his sympathies to the family. He said in a statement, “Detective Dambreville was a hardworking, dedicated and well respected member of the department.” Mayor Martin Walsh tweeted that the death was a “tragic loss.”
The loss is not just that of a community pillar, but an indiscriminately attentive and devoted friend, St. Fleur said, voice catching. Without exception, “he was a person who always gave,” she said.