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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Cop who used Taser 'panicked' and then gave incorrect statements, lawyer says

March 3, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Mountie who stunned Robert Dziekanski with a Taser panicked and later tried to cover off his mistakes by making inaccurate statements about the event, the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother accused the officer Tuesday.

Const. Kwesi Millington denied he panicked when he confronted Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport in October 2007, and insisted at a public inquiry that his initial accounts were his best memory, even though parts of those accounts were wrong.

Millington fired the Taser after Dziekanski picked up a stapler, and continued to stun the Polish immigrant as he screamed and writhed on the ground.

His initial accounts of what happened contained numerous inaccuracies, several of which suggested Dziekanski was more aggressive than what's shown on a bystander's video.

"You panicked over the entire situation," Walter Kosteckyj, lawyer for Dziekanski's mother, suggested to Millington.

"No, I didn't," the officer replied. "I feared for the safety of the other officers and so I acted to stop the threat."

There were errors in notes Millington made that night, statements to investigators in the days that followed and at least two internal reports he filed about the incident.

He said at the time that Dziekanski was yelling when police approached and was waving a stapler "wildly" just before the first stun of the Taser.

Those statements and notes also said Dziekanski was still standing after three jolts of the 50,000-volt weapon and continued to walk towards the officers. Millington said on numerous occasions that the four officers had to wrestle Dziekanski to the ground.

But he conceded at the inquiry those parts of his statements were incorrect.

The Taser's internal computer indicated it was fired five times, but Millington still says he can only remember four.

Kosteckyj asked the officer if the purpose his notes and statements were to explain and justify his use of force.

Millington agreed.

"You were covering yourself in your notes and in your statements, correct?" asked Kosteckyj.

"No, I don't believe so," replied Millington. "That was what I recollected at the time."

Kosteckyj suggested the errors - made in the minutes and days after Dziekanski had died - were partly because Millington wasn't in control.

"You panicked, you got this all wrong because you don't have a good recollection of what happened that night, do you?" said Kosteckyj.

"I made some mistakes in the statement, but my overall recollection was good," said Millington. "It was a fast-moving, stressful situation."

Millington acknowledged he was trained that multiple stuns of a Taser could be hazardous, and should be avoided unless circumstances required it.

However, he couldn't explain why more than one stun might be harmful.

"It can increase the risk, right?" said Kosteckyj.

"I don't know about increasing the risk, but it's definitely not to be used (multiple times) if you can avoid it," said Millington.

RCMP officers are also trained that people should be warned before they are stunned with a Taser if there's time, and medical first responders should be told that a Taser was used.

Neither happened.

Millington, who fired the Taser within seconds of arriving, said there wasn't time to warn Dziekanski before the weapon was used.

And he said the other officers at the scene knew Dziekanski had been stunned and could have told firefighters and paramedics. However, at least two of the officers thought Dziekanski had only been stunned twice.

"You just abdicated all responsibility for the use of the Taser that night to others, didn't you?" said Kosteckyj. "You just assumed others were doing it."

"I knew they were capable of giving the same information I could, with the exception of the four deployments," he said.

Crown prosecutors decided last year not to charge Millington, Const. Gerry Rundel, Const. Bill Bentley and Cpl. Benjamin Robinson, saying they acted with reasonable force.

However, the inquiry commissioner could make findings of misconduct against the officers or anyone else involved.

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