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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mom should not watch video of son's death at Vancouver airport, says witness

November 13, 2007
Canadian Press

VICTORIA - Hands raised as if in surrender. The blood-curdling scream after he is hit by a shot from a Taser. An RCMP officer pressing his shin with the full weight of his body into the prone man's head and neck. These are all reasons why Kamloops resident Zofia Cisowski should choose not to watch a video that captures the last moments of her son Robert Dziekanski's life, says the Victoria man who filmed an incident last month at Vancouver International Airport.

Paul Pritchard's video is to be made public Wednesday afternoon in Vancouver. Pritchard, who recorded the confrontation between Dziekanski, 40, and the RCMP, said earlier he wants the public to see what happened early on the morning of Oct. 14 when the newly arrived Polish immigrant was zapped by two 50,000-volt charges from the Taser. But it's not something Dziekanski's mother should see, Pritchard said Tuesday. Cisowski said last week she wanted to view the video to understand what happened to her son, but on Tuesday her lawyer said she was having second thoughts.

Pritchard has watched the video he took several times since it was returned to him last week by the RCMP after he initiated legal action to get it back. "You see him in a state that's obviously not her son," Pritchard said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "You see him and he's sweating and he's breathing really, really heavily and obviously that's not the son she knows. "I don't know if her last memory should be of him like that, and then the blood-curdling scream that you hear when they Taser him. The audio's sickening. His scream is brutal. You hear a man die, obviously."

Family friend Greg Laska told The Kamloops Daily News Tuesday that Cisowski is so emotionally distraught she has decided never to see the video. "She's not going to do it," Laska said. "She's not well. It's been hard, too hard for her."

Pritchard said the video shows the four Mounties who arrived at the airport to investigate complaints about Dziekanski using the Taser almost immediately to subdue him. The Mounties appeared to resort to the Taser without considering other options, he said. "There's four of them and it takes about 15 seconds for them to do it,"' Pritchard said. "You can just clearly see how many other options they had that they didn't use." The other options included handling him physically, calling for a translator or asking the public at the airport about Dziekanski's actions, Pritchard said.

The incident now is the subject of reviews by the RCMP's Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, the independent commission that looks into complaints against the Mounties and the Vancouver Airport Authority. A spokesman for the team said Tuesday the video had been returned because there were no longer concerns that it would jeopardize the investigation, but he had no comment on its substance.

"The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team is conducting a fair and unbiased investigation," said Cpl. Dale Carr. "To make comments on evidence prior to the completion of that investigation and a pending inquest would be highly inappropriate."

Dziekanski died about 10 hours after arriving on a flight from Europe to come live with his mother in Kamloops. She had waited for him in the greeting area of the airport's international arrivals terminal for several hours but somehow they did not connect and she returned to Kamloops, where a message from officials told her to come back to Vancouver immediately. Just why Dziekanski languished inside the secure part of the arrivals terminal from Saturday afternoon after clearing customs until early Sunday morning remains a mystery.

Pritchard described the video last week but gave more details Tuesday. The video shows Dziekanski raising his hands in a position that appears to be a surrender or give-up pose, but he's shot with a Taser, he said. Dziekanski, who had trashed a work desk and tipped over a computer, was holding a stapler in one hand but didn't appear to be preparing to battle the officers, he said. "It's so clear how he's just done," said Pritchard. "The cops have finally come after so long and he kind of just puts his shoulders up and points at the computer, like, 'yes, I did that, OK, arrest me, take me somewhere so I can get hold of my mom type thing.' And then they shoot him." The video shows one officer placing his shin across Dziekanski's neck and head and then after several moments he gets up and Dziekanski isn't moving, Pritchard said.

He turned over the video to police investigators on a promise it would be returned within 48 hours but went public with a lawsuit after being told RCMP might keep it for years. They returned it last week. Pritchard said he expects the video to have an impact with the public and the police, who will likely re-examine their policies when it comes to use-of-force guidelines. "Things are going to change because of this,"' Pritchard said. "People are going to have to be held responsible and accountable. It's clear in this video, somebody is going to have to be held accountable because they just handled it so wrong."

Last week, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP filed its own complaint about the incident. Commissioner Paul Kennedy said the public needs to know its questions about the incident will be answered. The complaint also allows the commission to look both at the use of force and also whether the RCMP investigation into the incident is itself adequate, he said.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a second complaint Tuesday, alleging the RCMP misrepresented the facts of Dziekanski's death and unreasonably seized and suppressed the video recording of the incident.

A public funeral for Dziekanski is set for Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Kamloops Funeral Home.

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