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Monday, February 23, 2009

RCMP officers begin testimony at public inquiry into Dziekanski's death

February 23, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — A witness video showing four Mounties rushing up to Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport and within seconds shocking him with a Taser has until now existed in a vacuum, offering little explanation about why they reacted as they did.

But this week, Canadians will hear from the officers for the first time as they begin their highly anticipated testimony at a public inquiry into Dziekanski's October 2007 death.

"I think they will all be very pleased to come here and explain what happened, what they saw, how they reacted, why they did what they did," says David Butcher, lawyer for Const. Bill Bentley.

"It's part of taking any public office in this country, that you become accountable for your actions, and this is part of a police officer's accountability."

Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington, Cpl. Monty Robinson and Const. Gerry Rundel rushed to Vancouver's airport after receiving a dispatch about an intoxicated man throwing chairs through glass windows.

They arrived within minutes and headed straight for Dziekanski, who had been throwing furniture minutes earlier.

After they approached the Polish man, who tests showed hadn't been drinking but who also didn't speak English, they tried communicating with him briefly before he turned and walked away.

At some point, Dziekanski picked up a stapler, turned back toward the officers and within seconds was flailing in pain after the first jolt of 50,000 volts surged through his body.

In all, the Taser was deployed five times before Dziekanski was finally handcuffed and on his stomach on the airport floor. He was dead within minutes.

The list of questions for the officers is long:

-Did they attempt to learn anything about Dziekanski or what had happened beyond the exaggerated calls to 911?

-Why didn't they call a translator for Dziekanski to find out why the man, who only spoke Polish, was acting erratically and throwing furniture?

-What did they see Dziekanski do with the stapler, and why did they feel threatened?

-Who was monitoring Dziekanski's condition, how often, and what part did the officers play in efforts to revive him?

-Why did the officers initially refuse to remove Dziekanski's handcuffs for the first emergency responders, despite being told he was unconscious and not breathing?

-How did their actions accord with their training?

The officers are the only people who can answer these questions and many others, says the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother.

"You're talking now to the active participants that were involved, and the last people to see Mr. Dziekanski alive," says Walter Kosteckyj.

"It really gets down to the nitty gritty of what happened, and what was going through these officers' minds."

The inquiry will also see the service records of the four officers, including whether any had ever faced criminal charges or code-of-conduct allegations related to their work.

The final report from inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood will reach far beyond the actions of the officers, examining the airport, the Canada Border Services Agency, first responders and others who encountered Dziekanski in the nearly 10 hours after his plane landed in Vancouver until he died.

Braidwood will make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future and he could make findings of misconduct against the officers or anyone else involved.

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