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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Officer fearful, Taser inquiry told

February 24, 2009
Petti Fong
Toronto Star

VANCOUVER – Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski went from co-operative to resistant within seconds after raising his hands in a stance that an RCMP officer said was akin to telling police to "go to hell," an inquiry heard yesterday.

Const. Gerry Rundel, the first RCMP officer to testify at the public inquiry into Dziekanski's death, said he feared for his safety after the shorter, lighter and unarmed man – surrounded by four police officers in Vancouver's airport – picked up a stapler.

"The training taught us is it's resistant behaviour where he directly disregarded a command," said Rundel as he duplicated the motion taken by Dziekanski as he raised his two arms up at shoulder level with all 10 fingers pointing up during the confrontation.

"My interpretation of that was he's saying `To hell with you guys, I'm out of here.' His behaviour then became resistant."

Rundel, who had been on the force two years, said his training taught him that when he had concerns about his safety, as he did when Dziekanski picked up the stapler and when a suspect becomes resistant to commands, the use of the Taser is justified.

"Every situation is different," said Rundel. "Not everyone resistant is Tasered."

Dziekanski, 40, who was unarmed and unable to understand English, was Tasered five times after his October 2007 encounter with RCMP. He died minutes later.

The Polish man's mother, Zofia Cisowski, left the inquiry room when Rundel spoke about why the use of the Taser was necessary.

"I couldn't stand to hear him talk, hear his excuses," she said. "I wanted to see his face and see all of their faces but I can't listen."

Cisowski, 72, worked for years as a cleaning aide to help pay for Dziekanski to immigrate to Canada. She sponsored him over from Poland with the hope that he would be able to support her.

On the day Dziekanski arrived in Canada, mother and son were only a short distance apart but couldn't see each other as he roamed the airport's international arrivals area looking for her and she ran from person to person seeking assistance. When she couldn't find him, she returned home to Kamloops, three hours away, because she feared that he didn't make his flight from Poland.

An investigation conducted by the RCMP into its four members' conduct, which was given to Crown counsel late last year, determined the officers' actions were not criminal.

Sgt. Tim Shields, spokesperson for the RCMP, said the four officers have been looking forward to testifying and clarifying the unanswered questions such as why, within a minute after arriving at the scene, police felt it was necessary to use the Taser.

"Of course this is a tragedy for everyone involved," said Shields. "Those officers will gladly do things differently if they could bring Mr. Dziekanski back."

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