Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER - Two senior Mounties gave conflicting testimony at the Braidwood inquiry Tuesday about an e-mail sent following the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport.
Chief Supt. Dick Bent testified the e-mail he sent — which concerned the four officers involved in the incident — was accurate.
But Supt. Wayne Rideout, the officer in charge of the investigation into Dziekanski’s death, said Bent’s recollection of a conversation they had, summarized in the e-mail, was wrong.
Dziekanski died Oct. 14, 2007 after a confrontation with the officers during which he was zapped five times with a Taser.
Bent sent the e-mail on Nov. 5, 2007 to Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre under the subject line “Media Strategy — Release of YVR video.”
Bent’s e-mail said: “Finally spoke to Wayne [Rideout] and he indicated that the members did not articulate that they saw the symptoms of excited delirium, but instead had discussed the response en route and decided that if he did not comply that they would go to CEW [conducted energy weapon].”
The e-mail brought the inquiry to a sudden halt when it was first disclosed last June because it contradicted the testimony of the four officers involved in Dziekanski’s death — Constables Bill Bentley, Kwesi Millington, Gerry Rundel and Cpl. Monty Robinson said they had no discussions before arriving at the airport.
The e-mail caused a further investigation and resulted in another 18,000 RCMP documents being disclosed to the inquiry, which is probing the Dziekanski’s death. The 40-year-old, who spoke no English, had spent hours at the airport trying to find his mother, who was to meet him upon his arrival from Poland.
When Dziekanski became agitated and began throwing things around, the four officers arrived. Seconds later, Millington deployed the Taser five times and the officers handcuffed Dziekanski, who died at the scene.
Bent, who plans to retire in two weeks after 35 years with the force, testified his e-mail was an accurate reflection of his conversation with Rideout.
Although he had no notes of the conversation, he said he wrote the e-mail “very quickly after our conversation.”
But he admitted under questioning by Rideout’s lawyer, Alex Pringle, that he could have misunderstood parts of what Rideout had said.
Rideout testified that while Bent was a highly respected senior officer, his e-mail was wrong.
“The last paragraph is inaccurate,” Rideout testified. “The IHIT [Integrated Homicide Investigation Team] investigation found no evidence whatsoever of any plan to deploy the CEW [conducted energy weapon].”
Cross-examined by Don Rosenbloom, the lawyer representing the government of Poland, Rideout admitted he said during an internal investigation that it was time for an independent agency, similar to the Special Investigations Unit in Ontario, to take over investigating police-involved deaths in B.C.
The officer testified that while the investigation into Dziekanski’s death was thorough and impartial, the public perception is that it was biased.
“The perception is the problem,” Rideout testified. “And it’s going to get worse.”
Outside court, RCMP spokesman Sgt. Tim Shields said the RCMP’s commanding officer in B.C., Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass, has expressed similar sentiments. “We’re aware of the optics of police investigating police,” he said, “and we are in discussions with the provincial government.”
Rosenbloom said outside court that he finds it “troubling” that there was contradictory evidence by two senior Mounties, which the inquiry commissioner will have to resolve in his final report.
The inquiry will continue today with another police witness and two civilians.