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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Witness disputes RCMP version of airport taser death

November 1, 2007
Lena Sin,CanWest News Service

VANCOUVER - The young man who filmed the final minutes of 40-year-old Robert Dziekanski's life has given a disturbing account of what he believes was a preventable Taser death. Paul Pritchard, 25, was on his way home to Victoria when he happened to witness an RCMP officer Taser Dziekanski to death in the arrivals section of Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 13. Pritchard, an English teacher in China, says he was waiting in the arrivals lobby when he noticed Dziekanski acting strangely as he paced back and forth. After watching for a few minutes, he decided to use his cellphone camera to film Dziekanski.

Paul Pritchard, with his lawyer Paul E. Peason, describes his account of what happened when the police at the Vancouver International Airport when he witnessed the death of Robert Dziekanski. Pritchard filmed the incident with his Sony digital camera.

While others in the waiting area called for security, it took some 25 to 30 minutes before security and police arrived, recalled Pritchard. But upon their arrival, it was clear that the police had decided to use a Taser gun before they even got near Dziekanski, said Pritchard.

"I heard 'Can I or should I Taser him?' before they even got to Mr. Dziekanski," says Pritchard. "Right away they Tasered him."

Three police officers then struggled to handcuff Dziekanski, who by now was on the floor. Dziekanski was unconscious about a minute later, said Pritchard.

Police immediately called "Code Red" and medics arrived about five to eight minutes later - a time period that Pritchard believes was too long. Pritchard said that in the 25 minutes prior to security and RCMP officers arriving on scene, at least five people - including women - went up to Dziekanski to offer help. Although he was clearly distressed and behaving strangely "none of us felt threatened at any time. We weren't scared, women were going right up to him," said Pritchard.

Pritchard's account is in stark contrast to that given by the RCMP, who said Dziekanski had been behaving violently and erratically in the international arrivals area and they were unable to calm him.

Pritchard had turned over his video footage to police on the understanding it would be returned to him within 48 hours. But police have since changed their minds, saying the release of Pritchard's footage may taint other witness testimony. Investigators told Pritchard it could be a year to two years before he gets the footage back. Now Pritchard is suing the Mounties to get the video back in a bid to show the public what actually happened and put to rest the questions surrounding Dziekanski's death.

"I'm watching all these interviews and all these press conferences and there's all this guesswork. . . But there's a clear image of what happened - why are they hiding it?" said Pritchard at a Victoria news conference.

Pritchard's lawyer, Paul Pearson, will be arguing in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday for the return of the video footage. "The police have not cited any legal authority for holding onto the footage," said Pearson. "They've been generally stating that it's an investigation. . .To us, that is not a legal reason." Pearson added that when police seize personal items, they typically write a report to the justice. "Those, as I understand it, have not been followed," said Pearson. "Effectively, they are people who are holding onto my client's property."

Dziekanski, who spoke no English, flew to Vancouver Oct. 13 to immigrate to Canada and join his mother in Kamloops, B.C. The Taser death at Vancouver Airport has caused international repercussions - Poland's embassy in Ottawa has sent a diplomatic note to Canada expressing concern over the death.

Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, was too distraught to comment publicly on Thursday. "She buried her only son yesterday," said a friend. "She's devastated, absolutely devastated."

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