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Friday, February 27, 2009

One small detail saves us from RCMP's deception

February 27, 2009
By Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

RCMP Const. Bill Bentley did his best to appear sincere, but he stepped from the witness box Thursday at the public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski leaving suggestions of a coverup hanging heavy in the air.

He was the second of four officers involved in the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport to acknowledge his memory is faulty and his notes and statements made in the wake of the tragedy cannot be trusted.

Both Bentley and Const. Gerry Rundel were forced to modify their original versions of events in the face of an amateur video that belied their accounts as set down in notes made the night of the fatal confrontation or in later statements to investigators.

They claim lack of sleep and stress caused them to misrepresent what happened.

That is hard to believe. They are supposed to be professional police officers and this is their stock in trade.

It has been a bad week for the national police force at the provincial inquiry conducted by former B.C. Court of Appeal justice Thomas Braidwood.

Even Bentley's attempted apology Wednesday was dismissed as insincere, a stunt to dampen criticism of his colleague's hard-hearted and embittered performance.

The young officer was talking about photographs he had taken Oct. 14, 2007, shortly after Dziekanski was jolted five times with a Taser.

Realizing he was out of time for the day, his lawyer David Butcher abruptly asked if the cop had anything to say to Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski.

Bentley sat silent for a moment before replying: "That I'm sorry for her loss and that my heart goes out to her and her family."

Cisowski, who has sat in tears for much of the testimony by the officers, was more insulted than touched.

Outside the courtroom, she said: "I was close to him, and I said I didn't accept. I don't accept any sorry, it's too late."

Who can blame her?

What is emerging at the inquiry about the culture within the RCMP is far more troubling than even the horrifying video that captured the 40-year-old man's agonizing final moments.

The Mounties seem to have gone out of their way to portray Dziekanski as more aggressive and menacing than he was to after-the-fact justify their use of the conducted energy weapon.

The police officers involved gathered several weeks after the event and shared their stories and experiences.

But mostly from an emotional point of view, as Bentley put it; not so they could all sing from the same song sheet. Hmmmm.

I am coming to believe that if the video did not exist, the original slanted police version of what happened here might very well have carried the day.

Dziekanski was calm when the four Mounties confronted him. Yet, quickly, in an intimidating manner, they encircled him and within 26 seconds of arriving on the scene they Tasered him.

Dziekanski began to scream and his body convulsed with involuntary spasms. As he fell to the ground, he was Tasered a second time.

While he continued howling and writhing on the floor, Dziekanski was jolted three more times.

Even Bentley acknowledged that once Dziekanski was down, there was no need for a second discharge.

After the two zaps delivered via probes on the end of two wires, the Taser was apparently held against Dziekanski's body and discharged in "pain compliance" mode. In all, it was purportedly discharged in total for 31 seconds -- longer than the officers gave themselves to assess the situation or "build rapport," as Bentley put it.

Neither officer was able to clearly explain the urgency or what Dziekanski did to warrant their explosive response.

Lawyer Walter Kosteckyj, who represents Dziekanski's mom, and Don Rosenbloom, lawyer for the Polish government, hammered the RCMP over their reaction and response to the disoriented Polish immigrant.

The Mounties appear to have been looking for a fight that night and afterwards to have cast Dziekanski as a man running amok to justify their actions.

Lawyer Kosteckyj -- a former Mountie -- sniped: "You've heard of the CYA principle?"

"Cover your butt, yes," Const. Bentley replied. "There was no coverup, if that's what you're getting at."

No, none whatsoever: Thankfully in this case, someone had a camera.

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