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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Training taught officer any object can be a weapon, probe hears

February 26, 2009
Ian Bailey, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — The Braidwood inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski received new lessons from the Mounties yesterday on how staplers can be dangerous weapons.

The probe into Mr. Dziekanski's demise in October, 2007, is focusing on the office implement, among other issues, because he was tasered and tackled by four Mounties after he began brandishing a stapler he had picked up during a confrontation in the international arrivals area of Vancouver airport.

Yesterday, Constable Gerry Rundel got into some specifics about why he thought the 40-year-old Mr. Dziekanski, exhausted after more than 24 hours travelling to Canada and 10 hours lost at the airport, was a danger because of the stapler.

Constable Rundel said his training taught him that any object - including a stapler - can become a weapon because it can be thrown or used to bolster a punch. He noted that Mr. Dziekanski had taken a combative posture against the officers, who were six to eight feet away.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he took up the combative stance," he said, "and he had every intent to injure, attempt to injure, harm police officers and anybody else in the public in the area that he would have access to was also a possibility.

"No doubt in my mind."

For the first time, the inquiry and the public are hearing from the four Mounties involved in the confrontation, which ended with the death of a handcuffed Mr. Dziekanski. The cause has been listed as "sudden death following restraint." No drugs or alcohol were found in his system.

When Mr. Dziekanski brandished the stapler, he was tasered twice, tackled, cuffed and tasered three more times. The inquiry heard yesterday that Mr. Dziekanski was tasered for a total of 31 seconds - one six-second burst; a five-second burst; a five-second burst; a nine-second burst, and a final six-second burst.

But it remained unclear yesterday how many of those blasts actually connected with Mr. Dziekanski and for what duration.

Constable Rundel, noting that police struggled to handcuff Mr. Dziekanski, said he feared what might have happened had the man fled the area where he was surrounded by police. "He could have injured, hurt other members of the public. He was not in a frame of mind that he was thinking rationally," he said. "The amount of energy I experienced that he had, if he was to use that in any other way on members of the public, that was a dangerous situation."

Constable Bill Bentley offered his sympathies to Mr. Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, who was attending the hearing. "I'm sorry for her loss. My heart goes out to her and her family," he said.

Outside the inquiry, Ms. Cisowski flatly rejected the apology, and said she told Constable Bentley as much in court.

"I was close to him, and I said I didn't accept," said Ms. Cisowski.

"I don't accept any sorry, it's too late."

Constable Bentley also said the stapler was a threat, noting Mr. Dziekanski swung it at officers.

"Do you recall any staples being discharged?" Inquiry counsel Patrick McGowan asked Constable Bentley.


Constable Bentley added that Mr. Dziekanski picked up the stapler and swung it at officers. "That's all I remember," he said. Constable Bentley said he pulled out his baton when Mr. Dziekanski turned on the officers with the stapler. He was seen in a widely screened bystanders' videotape of the confrontation slamming the baton down on the floor near Mr. Dziekanski's head after he was cuffed.

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