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Friday, November 02, 2007

RCMP to release bystander's taser video

November 2, 2007
IAN BAILEY, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — Days after legal action was launched against the RCMP, the Mounties say they will release a bystander's video that shows police using a taser on a Polish immigrant who died after the confrontation.

Corporal Dale Carr, a spokesman for the integrated homicide investigation team, made the promise to return the video to Paul Pritchard of Victoria, who launched a legal bid this week to get it back after turning it over voluntarily. Mr. Pritchard said the police had promised to give back the video flashcard within 48 hours of the Oct. 14 incident, but later went back on that pledge.

However, Mr. Pritchard has so little confidence in police that he plans to continue with his court action.

Mr. Pritchard, 25, shot the footage while at the airport en route home after teaching English in China. His lawyer said police have said previously they would return it and didn't

"We've heard this song before," said Paul Pearson, referring to previous promises. "I am optimistic they mean it this time, but excuse Mr. Pritchard's caution after two broken promises that they are now going to give it back to him."

Cpl. Carr said yesterday that the coroner's office, which is planning an inquest into the death of Robert Dziekanski, has decided there is no need to hold on to the footage.

"They said, 'Go ahead and release it. It's fine with us.' "

The officer suggested that Mr. Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski of Kamloops, would prefer that the video not be released to the media and thus the public.

Mr. Pritchard has said he would not release the footage without Mrs. Cisowski's permission. "If she doesn't [want it released], that's a whole other story," Mr. Pritchard said yesterday. "Obviously I have got a lot of respect for her, and it's her son here, so I am not stepping on her."

But Mrs. Cisowski said in an interview yesterday that she had not made a decision. She said once she sees the footage, she will discuss her options with her lawyer. "I would like to see this tape very much," she said.

She said she is aware that the public wants to see the video, but has not decided whether she agrees with that. She referred additional queries to her lawyer, Walter Kosteckyj. He said it was his understanding that Mrs. Cisowski wanted the footage released. "The last time I discussed it with her, she thought it would be good if the tape got out, but she has never seen the tape, and so I think it would be premature for her to agree to its release until she sees it," he said.

Mr. Kosteckyj said he has seen the footage, and found it "very disturbing."

"It shows the police actions in great detail," he said, adding the sound "is not particularly great."

"It obviously disturbing because you're watching a man get tasered, and he ends up on the floor and he is, of course, handcuffed and the tape ends before he passes on. But it comes pretty close to the end."

Mr. Dziekanski's fate has caused a maelstrom of controversy in British Columbia and elsewhere, raising questions about the use of tasers in general, the airport's handling of visitors from various countries as the 2010 Winter Olympics approaches and the RCMP's accountability to the public.

Various accounts have suggested Mr. Dziekanski was confused after his first-ever flight, and that there were no available Polish speakers to communicate with him. He did not speak English. He began throwing around chairs and acting erratically after more than 10 hours of processing. After officers used a taser on Mr. Dziekanski, he went into distress and died within minutes despite medical attempts to revive him.

Mr. Pritchard said yesterday from Victoria that he heard one of three Mounties approaching Mr. Dziekanski, 40, and passing by him, he asked a colleague whether he should use the taser even before they reached the scene.

"I thought it was, 'Can I use the taser?' It could have been, 'Should I use the taser?' "

Amid mounting calls from the public and observers for the release of the apparently high-quality footage, Cpl. Carr had also said police feared its release and broadcast by the media would affect the memories of witnesses that investigators hoped to interview.

But he said yesterday that police have interviewed all relevant witnesses at this point and recorded their accounts of the events before Mr. Dziekanski's death.

"That is certainly an issue we deal with in every investigation. People recalls things differently eight months, a year later. That's why we record things as very quickly as we can," he said.

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