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Monday, March 02, 2009

Dziekanski video showed reality you won't hear from Mounties

March 2, 2009
Gary Mason, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — It wasn't the first time the RCMP officer who tasered Robert Dziekanski had watched video of the incident. But this time, Constable Kwesi Millington had to watch it while reconciling the visual evidence with the statements he made immediately after the incident.

Constable Millington took the stand yesterday at the inquiry into Mr. Dziekanski's death at Vancouver International Airport in the early morning hours of Oct. 14, 2007. It was not pretty. Consistently, information he supplied to an RCMP investigating officer shortly after the incident was contradicted by the now-infamous video.

After nearly a week of testimony from three of the four Mounties involved in the confrontation that day, it is clear that if it were not for that video, the version of events supplied by the officers wouldn't have come close to what actually happened.

On the stand at the inquiry that former B.C. Supreme Court justice Thomas Braidwood is holding into Mr. Dziekanski's death, Constable Millington said the 40-year-old Polish immigrant was obviously agitated when the officers caught up with him. Yet the video of the encounter showed Mr. Dziekanski was anything but agitated and was standing there quite calmly but obviously confused. Why wouldn't he be, given he couldn't understand a word the officers were saying?

At one point, Mr. Dziekanski put his hands in the air and started walking away. He grabbed a stapler from a counter. According to Constable Millington's statement given at the local detachment a few hours later, and another statement given the following day, Mr. Dziekanski “raised [the stapler] in the air” and assumed a “combative stance” before stepping toward the officers in a “threatening manner.”

But that wasn't true at all. First, it's clear from the video that Mr. Dziekanski never raised the stapler above the level of his belt, or just slightly above, and if he stepped in the direction of the officers, it was a barely perceptible baby step. But this was enough to compel Constable Millington to take out his taser and pump Mr. Dziekanski with 50,000 volts.

I have seen the video of the tasering maybe a hundred times now and it never ceases to shock me. It did again yesterday. The worst part is right after Mr. Dziekanski is tasered for the first time, sending him reeling backward, holding his stomach, like someone who has just been shot. As he staggered backward, he fell on his backside and his legs shot up in the air.

The sight of him on the ground, screaming and writhing in pain, his arms holding his chest, is a terrible thing to watch. It is at this point, unbelievably, that Constable Millington gave the man a second blast from his taser.

So why, with Mr. Dziekanski on the ground, clearly in pain, did the officer taser him again? Just one second after the first hit?

In his original statement, Constable Millington said it was because Mr. Dziekanski hadn't gone down after the first discharge. But he clearly had.

“I was wrong about that,” Constable Millington said on the stand.

He also said in his statement that his fellow officers had to wrestle Mr. Dziekanski to the ground because he wouldn't fall.

“I was wrong,” the officer had to admit again.

Still, Constable Millington defended the second shot because he felt Mr. Dziekanski wasn't completely immobilized and was still “moving and struggling.” Yes, struggling for his life as it would turn out.

It got worse.

After Mr. Dziekanski was on the ground, with three officers on top of him, one with a knee in his back, Constable Millington fired the taser a third time. This time, because the “male was still resisting the officers.” That's right, three RCMP officers, all close to six feet and collectively weighing nearly 600 pounds, couldn't subdue someone the Mounties estimated to be 5'9” and weigh 180.

But Constable Millington wasn't finished.

He said he thought his taser wasn't working properly because it was making a “clacking sound” so he took out the cartridge and put the weapon in push-stun mode, which is when the taser is applied directly to a person's body, causing severe pain.

This, Constable Millington did two times even though he told the RCMP officer who took his statement that he had applied the taser in push-stun mode only once. Another fact refuted by the video evidence. By lunch break, I counted at least six statements that Constable Millington made immediately after the incident that ended up being contradicted by the video.

But Constable Millington did do one thing right.

When Mr. Dziekanski started turning blue, he suggested his fellow officers turn him over on his back, into what police call “recovery position.”

By then it was too late.

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