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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Robert Dziekanski may have died from suffocation while restrained

May 29, 2008
Alan Ferguson, The Province

People have written to me expressing doubts that the Thomas Braidwood inquiry will get us any closer to solving the mystery of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski's death at YVR.

We'll have to wait and see.

The first stage of the former judge's probe was restricted to police use of stun guns.

How Dziekanski died last October will be the exclusive focus of a second inquiry.

And a coroner's inquest has yet to be held.

In advance of the official findings, various theories have been advanced, including that Dziekanski was mentally unbalanced, that the police used excessive force or that the double blast from a Taser somehow killed him.

But the literature on the subject suggests the possibility that what doomed him was a phenomenon known as "restraint asphyxia."

As anyone who's watched the video knows, Dziekanski was in a highly agitated state. After a long flight and 10 hours lost in the airport, he was physically exhausted. Experts say that can cause the victim to behave irrationally -- which he did.

After he was Tasered by Mounties, Dziekanski was pinned to the ground, face down, in what is known as a "prone restraint" position.

Const. Steve Hiscoe, who teaches at the RCMP's Pacific Region Training Centre in Chilliwack, says officers are told that putting a suspect in prone restraint can definitely lead to medical issues: "We teach them that, as soon as it is safe to do so, to get off the person's back . . . [he] should be placed in the recovery position as soon as possible."

What can happen is that the victim, flat on his stomach, is unable to breathe. The contents of his abdomen block the function of the diaphragm, the body's "air pump" that controls the intake of oxygen.

As Charly Miller, an internationally recognized expert on the subject, has written: "It is practically impossible for restrainers to tell the difference between a victim struggling to 'escape restraint' and a victim desperately struggling to breathe."

Respiratory arrest can be quickly followed by unconsciousness, even though the victim appears to be continuing to struggle.

"Involuntary muscle movement of an unconscious respiratory arrest victim does not stop until after the victim's heart stops," says Miller.

And, once the heart stops, "successful resuscitation remains virtually unheard of."

Miller's research showed her "the average time between first application of forceful prone restraint and when full cardiopulmonary arrest was noticed is only 5.6 minutes."

Miller's time span is eerily close to the time Dziekanski went down and when he ceased to struggle.

She has written: "Expert opinion and actual field experience . . . indicate that the practice of prone restraint does in fact lead to deaths among suspects in the custody of the police.

"Therefore, until such time as this threat is proven non-existent, a prohibition against unqualified use of this restraint procedure . . . should be included in all law enforcement agency policy."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this story. there are many side to this case and it's good to know and understand all the details available. Often the police and RCMP have a fine line to walk in these cases as to how much force is used on an individual. Hopefully we all can learn from each case.