October 27, 2007
PATRICK BRETHOUR, The Globe and Mail
VANCOUVER -- Robert Dziekanski had no alcohol or drugs in his system when he died after being tasered by police at Vancouver International Airport, his family's lawyer says.
Mr. Dziekanski was acting erratically after being delayed more than 10 hours at the Vancouver airport - it still is not clear why - with police saying he was yelling, sweating profusely, behaving irrationally, throwing chairs, tipping his luggage cart over, and pounding on windows.
But toxicology tests on samples taken from Mr. Dziekanski's remains were negative, said lawyer Walter Kosteckyj. British Columbia's Coroner Service provided those results to the family, but is not making them public. The RCMP is not releasing the information either, saying it does not want to impede its investigation.
A preliminary autopsy did not uncover any anatomical cause of death, either trauma or disease, meaning there is no clear medical picture of why Mr. Dziekanski stopped breathing and died within a few minutes of being repeatedly tasered in the early morning hours of Oct. 14.
The RCMP say he was tasered twice, but a witness has said she saw police use tasers four times.
Police have said that three officers attempted to speak to Mr. Dziekanski, but that he ignored them and attempted to grab an item off a desk. However, Mr. Kosteckyj said on Thursday that police waited just 24 seconds before tasering the 40-year-old man, and that he did not appear to pose a danger to anybody.
The police have said that Mr. Dziekanski continued to struggle after being tasered, but Mr. Kosteckyj questioned that assertion yesterday, saying his muscles may have been contracting as a result of the taser blasts.
Resolving that discrepancy, along with the number of taser blasts, could prove to be pivotal. According to Dr. John Butt, a pathologist and former chief coroner for Nova Scotia, repeated taser shocks could exhaust a person's chest muscles and cause him or her to stop breathing.
That exhaustion, formally termed tetany, is not detectible at autopsy, he said. But if Mr. Dziekanski continued to struggle after being tasered, it is not likely that the shocks triggered tetany, Dr. Butt said.
But Mr. Kosteckyj said the notion that Mr. Dziekanski died from muscle exhaustion brought on by repeated taser strikes "makes perfect sense."
RCMP guidelines for the use of tasers allow multiple strikes. Only about one in five taser strikes connect properly with a target subject, RCMP Corporal Greg Gillis said. Multiple strikes increase the chances of subduing a person, he said.
Jeff Dolan, B.C.'s assistant deputy chief coroner, said a full coroner's report will not be ready for a considerable time, likely weeks.
CTV News reported on Thursday that, based on emergency radio logs, police arrived at the scene at 1:28 a.m. and two minutes later, it was reported that a "male has been tasered."
The radio log does not say when police approached Mr. Dziekanski. But it does indicate that he was down two minutes after they arrived, and that he lost consciousness two minutes after that.
CTV reported there was a 12-minute delay before medical help arrived.
Mr. Kosteckyj said it appears likely that Mr. Dziekanski's family will sue, although it is not clear who will be the target of any lawsuit. "I'm sure there's going to be more than one defendant."
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