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Monday, February 23, 2009

Dziekanski's 'combative behaviour' justified Taser jolt: Mountie

Const. Gerry Rundel demonstrates the gesture made by Robert Dziekanski moments before he was stunned with a Taser. (CBC)

February 23, 2009
CBC News

One of four RCMP officers who confronted Robert Dziekanski testified on Monday the Polish immigrant's "combative behaviour" led the officer to fear for his own safety and justified the use of an electrical stun gun.

Const. Gerry Rundel is the first of the four Mounties to appear at the inquiry in Vancouver into Dziekanski's death.

Dziekanski was immigrating to Canada from Poland and spoke little English. He died on Oct. 14, 2007, shortly after being stunned up to five times by the RCMP Taser. He had been wandering the airport for hours and became agitated after a series of communications breakdowns kept him in a controlled area.

Rundel testified that Dziekanski held an object — a stapler — in one hand and his stance was considered combative just before he was shocked with a Taser.

'He [Dziekanski] disobeyed a direction from Cpl. Robinson by flipping up his hands, turning around and leaving — that became resistant behaviour.'
— Const. Gerry Rundel"I don't recall any words being spoken at that point. I recall this combative behaviour. I recall fearing for my safety to a certain degree," Rundel said, adding that he had been trained to use the Taser in such situations.

Rundel testified Monday that a witness had told him Dziekanski didn't speak English, and he said that was readily apparent.

Rundel described Dziekanski as unkempt, sloppily dressed, with matted hair and wide, staring eyes.

When Dziekanski bent down and pointed toward his luggage, Rundel said, the officer in charge, Cpl. Monty Robinson, yelled a stern "No" and motioned for Dziekanski to stop. Dziekanski complied with the order, Rundel said.

Dziekanski was jolted up to five times with a Taser by RCMP officers during the takedown at the international arrivals area of Vancouver International Airport. (Paul Pritchard)
He said Dziekanski then turned around, lifted his hands in the air and started to walk away.

Referring frequently to his training, Rundel testified that the Taser is a legitimate response to someone who's resistant. But inquiry lawyer Patrick McGowan had trouble understanding how Dziekanski had been resistant.

"What is the command that he disobeyed?" McGowan asked.

Rundel sat in silence for more than 20 seconds before telling the inquiry that Dziekanski disobeyed a command in English in an indirect way.

"He disobeyed a direction from Cpl. Robinson by flipping up his hands, turning around and leaving — that became resistant behaviour," Rundel said.

"My observation of that is saying, 'To hell with you guys, I'm out of here.' That's non-compliant, and his behaviour then became resistant."

Video screened
Rundel was shown a video of the incident that had been taken by a witness, and asked to point out when Dziekanski lifted the stapler in an aggressive manner, but he could not.

"Are Dziekanski's hands not down?" asked retired judge Thomas Braidwood, who is overseeing the inquiry.

"From my view at that point, my best recollection is that they're still in a combative stance, so I don't think you really can make that determination from this back view," Rundel replied.

The Crown announced in December that none of the Mounties will face criminal charges. The Crown said that while the officers contributed to Dziekanski's death, their use of force was reasonable in the circumstances.

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