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Thursday, February 19, 2009

RCMP told Dziekanski was drunk, Taser probe hears

February 19, 2009

VANCOUVER–Although he hadn't been drinking, RCMP officers were told Robert Dziekanski was intoxicated and tossing furniture through glass windows as they raced to Vancouver's airport.

Audio recordings between dispatchers and police the night Dziekanski died in October 2007 were played Thursday at a public inquiry into his death, offering a glimpse into what officers were told before arriving and how they responded.

As Dziekanski started acting erratically and throwing furniture in the airport's international arrivals lounge, witnesses and airport staff called 911.

"Member for an intoxicated male throwing luggage around, Level 2," a dispatcher said on a Richmond RCMP radio channel.

As the four officers went to the scene, they received a second update.

"The male is now throwing chairs through glass windows in the same area."

By that point, Dziekanski had thrown a small table against a glass wall, although the glass didn't break. He also threw a computer to the floor.

Toxicology tests later concluded Dziekanski hadn't been drinking, but he was repeatedly described as drunk by witnesses and then emergency dispatchers. When a police dispatcher called for an ambulance, Dziekanski was referred to as "extremely intoxicated."

The four officers arrived at the airport, walked over to Dziekanski and within seconds stunned him several times with a Taser as they fought to bring him to the ground.

During that struggle, one of the officer's radios is turned on and a dispatcher asks what is happening.

A minute and a half after the first Taser shock, as Dziekanski is lying face down with his hands behind his back, Const. Kwesi Millington replies.

"We've got one male in custody," says Millington. "We've got four members here, everything is 10-4."

From there, Dziekanski's condition quickly deteriorates.

Twenty-three seconds after everything was declared OK, another officer, Const. Bill Bentley, asks for a routine ambulance call.

And then just 12 seconds later, an unidentified officer upgrades the request to a high-priority emergency requiring lights and sirens.

"Code 3," says the officer. "He's unconscious, looks like he's breathing."

The officers' broadcasts end 15 minutes later, after the arrival of firefighters and paramedics, who were unable to revive Dziekanski.

All four officers are scheduled to testify beginning Monday, and they'll be asked to explain why they stunned Dziekanski so soon after arriving and whether they sought any more information before using the Taser.

They'll also testify about who was monitoring Dziekanski's condition, how often, and why they upgraded the call for an ambulance.

A security guard supervisor has told the inquiry he was checking Dziekanski's pulse and breathing, and he was alive until at least two minutes before firefighters arrived.

Members of the Richmond Fire Department have testified that when they reached Dziekanski, he wasn't breathing, had no pulse and was likely already dead.

Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother, said the officers should have taken more time to assess the situation when they arrived, regardless of what they were told over the radio.

"This is something that police officers deal with all the time," Walter Kosteckyj, a former RCMP officer, said outside the inquiry.

"They have to be able to sift through and analyze the situation they encounter not what they're told on the radio, because you could even see the embellishment."

The officers' testimony will also include a review of their training and policies they must follow, as well as whether any substantiated allegations of misconduct have been made against any of them.

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