Mountie signalled immigrant to move before Tasering him
By Neal Hall, Canwest News ServiceFebruary 26, 2009
Mountie signalled immigrant to move before Tasering him (external - login to view)
VANCOUVER — The lawyer representing the Polish government at the Braidwood
inquiry punched a large hole Thursday in the police justification for using a Taser
against an immigrant at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007.
Richmond RCMP Const. Bill Bentley conceded under vigorous cross-examination that
one of his colleagues could be seen on video using a hand signal to direct Robert
Dziekanski to stand by a counter.
Bentley denied he was part of an RCMP coverup of the circumstances surrounding
Dziekanski’s death, which made headlines around the world.
A day earlier, Bentley testified he feared for his safety after Dziekanski disobeyed
a police command, threw up his arms in the air and appeared to walk away from
the officers, which he saw as an act of defiance.
But lawyer Don Rosenbloom, representing the Polish government, took Bentley
through an amateur video of the incident frame by frame, pointing out that
Dziekanski, after “shrugging,” is directed by another officer, RCMP Cpl. Benjamin
Robinson, to stand over by a counter.
Dziekanski does so and is surrounded by the four uniformed officers. When
Dziekanski grabbed a stapler off the counter and swung it in front of him, Bentley
pulled out his police baton.
At the same time, RCMP Const. Kwesi Millington fired his Taser at Dziekanski, who
was exhausted after leaving Poland about 30 hours earlier.
Rosenbloom asked the officer if he thought he and his colleagues handled the
“No, I don’t think we did,” Bentley told the inquiry, which is probing the death of
Dziekanski on Oct. 14, 2007.
The witness said he thought Dziekanski was only Tasered twice. He didn’t realize
the Taser was fired five times for a total of 31 seconds
, although the probes may
not have connected to Dziekanski’s body the entire time.
He recalled the first shot failed to cause Dziekanski to fall, so Robinson told
Millington: “Hit him again.”
But Bentley conceded when the video was played, Dziekanski falls to the ground
screaming after six seconds.
“So the second Taser shot was not necessary,” Rosenbloom suggested.
“Yes, perhaps,” Bentley replied. He said under further questioning that his initial
police statement was erroneous when he stated two other officers brought down
Dziekanski because he was “fighting through” being Tasered.
The lawyer pointed out that Dziekanski had no voluntary control of his muscles as
he fell as he was Tasered.
Bentley said Dziekanski’s screaming and the look on his face suggested he was
“fighting through it.”
Rosenbloom suggested the look on Dziekanski face and his screaming could have
been caused by the extreme pain of the Taser.
“It could be both. It depends how you interpret it
,” Bentley replied.
The witness agreed he was aware during his Taser training in 2007 that the RCMP
policy was that “multiple deployment or continuous cycling could
be hazardous to
the subject” and Taser shocks should not exceed 20 seconds.
Initially, when Dziekanski slipped into unconsciousness seconds after he was
Tasered, he thought the man might be faking it, the witness said. “But when he
turned blue, I realized it wasn’t an act.”
Asked by Rosenbloom if he had ever discussed the incident with the three other
Mounties involved, Bentley said he did — at a critical incident debriefing weeks
after the incident. He couldn’t recall the date but it might have occurred after the
amateur video was publicly released, he said.
A police psychologist attended, along with two other officers, including Richmond
RCMP Cpl. Nycki Basra, Bentley added.
“Everyone gave their version of events,” he said of the four officers, adding they
talked about their feelings caused by the incident.
Commission counsel Art Vertlieb later arose to tell commissioner Thomas
Braidwood, a retired judge, that it was the first time he had heard of the
debriefing and asked the RCMP to produce any notes or record of the meeting
Earlier in the day, under questioning by Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer representing
Dziekanski’s mother, Bentley denied he was involved in a coverup.
He testified his recollection of the events leading to Dziekanski’s death changed
after seeing the amateur video on Nov. 14, 2007, so he contacted police
investigators to give another statement Nov. 22.
“You’ve heard of the CYA principle?” asked Kosteckyj.
“Cover your butt, yes,” Bentley replied. “There was no coverup, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
Bentley said seeing the video “refreshed my memory and I wanted to set the record straight.”
Kosteckyj, a former RCMP officer, suggested it wasn’t good police procedure to arrive at the scene and “blow by” the complainants without talking to them.
“Isn’t it usual to actually go and talk to the complainant?” the lawyer asked the witness.
“There was no urgency,” Kosteckyj continued. “Take some time and find out what’s happening.”
Bentley disagreed, saying the dispatched call of an intoxicated man throwing around luggage and furniture at the airport “sounded urgent and the threat level was fairly high.”
There wasn’t time to talk to the complainants, he said, adding his Mountie colleagues immediately confronted Dziekanski, who could not speak English.
After Dziekanski was hit with the initial Taser jolt, it took police about a minute to handcuff his hands behind his back on the floor.
Bentley said after the man stopped struggling, he went unconscious, so he called for a routine ambulance.
He said he didn’t upgrade the ambulance call to Code 3 — emergency lights and siren — until Dziekanski stopped breathing.
The cause of death of Dziekanski, 40, was listed as “sudden death following restraint.”
He had no drugs or alcohol in his system that night. He had spent about 10 hours in the airport, unable to find his mother.
He had never been on a plane before and came to Canada to live with his mother, who had waited hours at the airport but eventually returned home to Kamloops after being told by officials that her son could not be located.
The Crown announced last December that no charges would be laid against the officers, who were justified in their use of force.
The inquiry will resume Monday with the testimony of Millington, who deployed the Taser.