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Friday, October 26, 2007

Questions hang over taser death

October 26, 2007

VANCOUVER — Dazed and confused after more than 15 hours of travel, unable to communicate in English and scared because he couldn't find his mother, Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski was jolted by a taser just 24 seconds after being confronted by police in Vancouver International Airport.

That allegation was made Thursday by a lawyer for Mr. Dziekanski's family who says video evidence will show that the RCMP took him down with a taser jolt moments after approaching him.

"I've been in touch with witnesses. I have viewed a video, which was taken by a bystander, which is not going to be released until at least the time of the inquest. From my observation, the interaction between the police and this individual, who didn't appear to me to be posing a danger to anybody at the time … was 24 seconds, roughly, before he was tasered," Walter Kosteckyj said, adding the airport surveillance videos also won't likely be released until an inquest is held.

A CTV News report Thursday night, based on emergency radio logs, shows police arrived at the scene at 1:28 a.m. and, two minutes later, it was reported a "male has been tasered."

The radio log does not indicate when police first approached Mr. Dziekanski, just that he was down two minutes after they arrived — and that by 1:32 he had lost consciousness.

CTV reported there was a 12-minute delay before medical help arrived. Mr. Dziekanski died shortly after being tasered — only 10 hours after arriving in the country that was to be his new home.

Asked to describe what he saw on the video, Mr. Kosteckyj replied: "I would describe it as something that will be shown to police academies around North America as not the way to intervene in this kind of situation."

Police have described a much more measured response in which officers gave a wildly agitated Mr. Dziekanski two jolts from a taser just to subdue him long enough to put handcuffs on him. The RCMP say they too have videos, but they can't be released because an investigation is under way.

Mr. Dziekanski died not far from dramatic Coast Salish totemic "welcome figures" that had greeted him at the entrance to the Arrivals Hall several hours earlier.

Mr. Kosteckyj described how a journey to a new life devolved into a nightmarish scenario, in which Mr. Dziekanski was left wandering helpless and alone in a busy airport while his mother, Zofia Cisowski, was searching for him nearby.

The waiting mother and increasingly frantic son were separated by glass walls and what appears to be impenetrable airport bureaucracy that somehow failed to help them connect.

"Unbelievably, these people were probably no more than 150 to 200 feet apart for at least five hours, and she was unable to get any message to him. And no one on the other side [of the glass walls] thought to interview him or come outside or vice versa," Mr. Kosteckyj said.

He said he could not explain why no one was able to come to the assistance of Mr. Dziekanski in an airport that handles 17 million visitors a year.

"For all the high-tech stuff they have at the airport, and all the security they have, somehow a guy can sit or be in that baggage area, that immigration area, for a period of nine hours … without anyone really taking much notice of him — as unbelievable as that sounds," Mr. Kosteckyj said.

He said Mr. Dziekanski's journey to Canada began in Poland about 3 a.m., when he left his home town of Pieszyce to get to an airport for his first airplane flight. The 40-year-old construction worker, who had never left Poland before, was immigrating to Canada to join his mother, 61, who lives in Kamloops, about a five-hour drive from Vancouver.

They had arranged to meet at the baggage carousel in the international terminal at YVR. What neither of them seemed to know, however, was that the baggage area is inside a secure area just past Canada Customs and Immigration. There is no line of sight into the Arrivals Hall from the public waiting area, except for a short distance through sliding glass doors.

Mr. Dziekanski arrived at about 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14.

"He made his way to primary customs in the ordinary fashion … he went through there in the normal time frame … he then proceeded through and was directed to secondary customs, which is normal for someone who doesn't speak English and is immigrating to the country," Mr. Kosteckyj said. His papers were in order and he proceeded without difficulty.

But what happened after that was far from normal. For nearly 10 hours, Mr. Dziekanski stayed in the Arrivals Hall, growing increasingly frustrated and eventually becoming frantic.

Outside, in the public area, his mother spent nearly six hours pacing the corridors and, in broken English, asking airport officials for help in locating her son.

Mr. Kosteckyj said she visited one booth in international arrivals "at least three to four times and conveyed to them that she was concerned about her son being in the area and she wanted to get a message to him and how could she do that? They wrote her name down and said that they would make inquiries."

At about 10 p.m., she was told he wasn't there. She made the long drive home, only to find a phone message waiting, saying her son had been found.

"She called back to immigration when she got in, which would have been around 2 a.m., and spoke to someone there and was advised that her son was somewhere in the area and was fine. And she advised, you know, 'Please take care of him because he can't speak English and I'll get there as soon as I can.' And of course he had died, been killed really, some time on or about 1 or 1:30," Mr. Kosteckyj said.

At a news conference, Ms. Cisowski said she had dreamed of opening a small business in Kamloops with her son. "I've lost my only family," she said. "I studied English during the day and at night I saved money to get my son to Canada."

Mr. Dziekanski arrived with three bags, two of which were filled with geography books.

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