You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dziekanski family lawyer says officers 'overreacted'

February 24, 2009
CTV.ca News Staff With a report by CTV British Columbia and files from The Canadian Press

The lawyer representing the mother of Robert Dziekanski, who died after being Tasered at Vancouver International Airport, says the RCMP officers involved in the incident "totally overreacted."

Lawyer Walter Kosteckyj made the comments a day after one of the RCMP officers testified at a B.C. inquiry into the incident.

Breaking his silence, Const. Gerry Rundel told the Braidwood inquiry on Monday that Dziekanski appeared combative during the ordeal, despite the efforts of officers to calm him down.

"Mr. Dziekanski went from non-compliant behaviour ... to what training has taught us is a resistant behaviour -- where he has directly disregarded a command and fled from us ... and took up a combative stance," said Rundel.

"I recall fearing for my safety to a certain degree."

Rundel told the probe that officers motioned to Dziekanski and attempted to communicate with him, but he turned his back and raised his arms up in the air. At that point, officers believed that Dziekanski was resisting arrest.

When Dziekanski turned around, he was clutching a stapler and making a fist, the officer said.

That's when another Mountie Tasered Dziekanski, who screamed and flailed uncontrollably while still standing.

Since Dziekanski didn't fall to the ground, which is common, another officer ordered a second shock, said Rundel, who is the first of the officers involved to speak publicly about the death.

In an interview with CTV's Canada AM Tuesday, Kosteckyj said Rundel's testimony was different from his original statement to investigators immediately following the incident.

Kosteckyj said Rundel had originally said that Dziekanski had raised his hands in the air immediately before being Tasered -- even though the video shows he had lowered his hands by that point.

"Now, after he's viewed the tape, (Rundel said) that Mr. Dziekanski's arms were by his side but he was still being combative," Kosteckyj said.

"The point is that that's a substantive change in the evidence from what was told to investigators on the morning of the investigation and the morning of the death of Mr. Dziekanski."

Kosteckyj also spoke about the period during which Dziekanski did have his hands up, saying that in most cultures that means "I give up" not "I'm combative."

"They just totally overreacted to the situation and if this is what the RCMP says is officers acting in accordance with their training then they've got a problem with the people of Canada because the people of Canada are not going to accept that somebody who puts their hands up in the air and takes one step away should be Tasered because that's somehow combative behaviour," Kosteckyj said.

"If that's the case, be careful the next time you put your hands up in the air when you're getting a traffic ticket, be careful if you don't produce your licence quick enough, be careful the next time you have any interaction with a police officer because if they can make that decision in four seconds, we're all in trouble."

Details of incident

In total, Dziekanski was stunned five times during the ordeal, which ended as the officers overcame the disoriented Polish man, took him down and put his wrists in handcuffs.

Moments later, police had Dziekanski pinned face-down on the ground with his hands behind his back in handcuffs.

According to testimony, Dziekanski made no movements at this point.

It still isn't clear if the officers were checking Dziekanski's vital signs at this point, but that will likely come up during later testimony at the probe. Some witnesses have said that the RCMP were monitoring the incapacitated traveller, while others have disputed that observation.

When an emergency crew later arrived, Dziekanski's vital signs were absent and je was likely already dead.

The four Mounties came to the airport after they received reports of a drunken man smashing glass with terminal furniture. However, later blood tests showed that Dziekanski wasn't drunk at the time.

Still, it's expected that lawyers for the police will argue that Dziekanski was going through extreme alcohol withdrawal during the incident.

The three other officers involved -- Const. Kwesi Millington, Cpl. Monty Robinson and Const. Bill Bentley -- will also testify at the hearing.

The public inquiry follows a criminal trial last year in which a judge ruled that the officers didn't use excessive force.

Dziekanski flew to Vancouver from Poland to meet his mother, but instead spent several hours wandering through the airport before he was shocked on Oct. 14, 2007.

Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, had been waiting at the airport to meet her son but was told he wasn't there. Cisowski then returned to her home in Kamloops, B.C., which is several hours away by car.

Kosteckyj is calling for a full moratorium on Taser use until the safety hazards of the device are properly assessed.

No comments: