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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

'He had the stapler open ... he was in a combative stance'

March 3, 2009
IAN BAILEY, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- A bullet-proof vest, handgun, baton and pepper spray were not enough to quell the fear RCMP Constable Kwesi Millington says he felt when he faced Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski during a fatal October, 2007, confrontation with Mounties at Vancouver International Airport.

At the time, Mr. Dziekanski was holding a stapler he had grabbed from a counter.

So Constable Millington, the only one of four attending Mounties equipped with a taser, used the weapon on Mr. Dziekanski once, then went on to jolt Mr. Dziekanski four more times over a total of 31 seconds as police struggled to restrain and handcuff Mr. Dziekanski.

"He had the stapler open, his other fist raised. He was in a combative stance as we call it and was approaching the officers, I believe, with the intent to attack so I deployed the taser at that point," he told the Braidwood inquiry into Mr. Dziekanski's death.

Commission counsel Art Vertlieb later asked the officer whether he was "scared."

"Yes," said Constable Millington, who earlier noted that the fact that the stapler was open would make it "more" of a threat.

The constable was then given the stapler, and Mr. Vertlieb twice asked him to hold it and show the inquiry how Mr. Dziekanski brandished it. Constable Millington, 32, stood in the witness box and complied.

The resulting scoffing sounds, snorts of derision and other noises from the gallery grew so obvious that inquiry head Thomas Braidwood, a former B.C. Supreme Court justice, told spectators to cut it out.

"It's necessary, ladies and gentlemen, to not really make any comments by way of different noises," he said.

Two other Mounties told the story from their perspectives last week, the first time the public has heard from the officers involved in the incident. But the testimony from Constable Millington has been keenly anticipated because he actually fired the taser.

That decision - the first and only time in Constable Millington's four years as a police officer that he has fired a taser on the job - set off a chain of events that have prompted an enduring debate on the police use of stun guns.

"You're in good physical shape and well trained in the arts of defence and controlling people," Mr. Vertlieb asked the officer.


"We heard from your [fellow officers] that they were scared. In fairness, I want to ask you the same the question. Were you scared at that moment in time?"

"At that moment when he picked up the stapler, I feared for the safety of the officers."

Constable Millington earlier said he and his three fellow officers, all posted at the RCMP's airport detachment, responded to a call that a man was acting erratically in the international arrivals area, throwing luggage around, then were told he was throwing chairs through windows, which turned out to be untrue.

They went to the scene without discussing a strategy. A bystander said Mr. Dziekanski, who had just made a 24-hour journey to Canada to start a new life with his Kamloops-based mother, became lost in the airport for about 10 hours, and did not speak English.

Constable Millington said Mr. Dziekanski, 40, was walking back and forth, "seemed very sweaty" and "very agitated."

The officer tried hand signals, he said, to get him to calm down asked for his "passport" and "identification," figuring he would understand, and mimed writing on paper.

Mr. Dziekanski, he said, threw up his hands - "I interpreted that to be defiant" - turned away, and knocked some things off a counter, and picked up a stapler.

"He held it up with one hand, fist with the other, and started to approach us with hands up." Constable Millington said he expected Mr. Dziekanski was going to attack. "So I deployed the taser at that point," he told the inquiry.

Constable Millington said that in spite of the evidence that the taser was fired five times, he was aware of only four blasts.

He said he could hear "clacking" sounds that suggested, according to his training, that the current was not making connection with Mr. Dziekanski. So he kept firing as the officers struggled on the ground to handcuff Mr. Dziekanski.

"Can you tell us how four healthy men from the RCMP could not gain control of him when he's in that position?" Mr. Vertlieb asked.

"I don't know why he was not under control. He was fighting so that's why we had to use [the taser]."

Constable Millington's original notes on the incident, available as evidence, contained inconsistencies. He had written that officers had to wrestle Mr. Dziekanski to the ground when, in fact, he collapsed after being tasered.

Mr. Dziekanski soon suffered fatal cardiac arrest. The cause was listed as "sudden death following restraint." An autopsy found no sign of drugs or alcohol in his system.

The Crown has ruled out charges against the officers.

Constable Millington said he acted in accordance with his training. "Of course, I never intended this result," he said. "I never intended for Mr. Dziekanski to pass away."

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