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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Small and black, it threw terror into the hearts of the officers

March 5, 2009
Neal Hall and Doug Ward, Vancouver Sun

A humble piece of office equipment was thrust into the spotlight this week at the Braidwood inquiry, which is probing the death of a Polish man at Vancouver's airport in 2007.

Three RCMP witnesses have testified that seconds after they encountered Robert Dziekanski at the airport, he became agitated and grabbed a stapler from a counter and held it in his hand in a threatening manner.

Const. Kwesi Millington testified he Tasered Dziekanski five times without warning because he believed the man was going to attack him and the other officers with the stapler.

Dziekanski died minutes later at the scene after being restrained and handcuffed.

The stapler defence has sparked more derision than sympathy, prompting mocking letters to the editor and flippant comments on radio talk shows.

The media were allowed access to the stapler in question Wednesday.

It seemed rather small and ordinary.

It is black, an APSCO Model No. 17, made in Sweden. It was described as a "sharp-edged weapon" by RCMP lawyer Helene Roberts.

Mike Webster, a Nanaimo-based forensic psychologist and hostage negotiator, hadn't seen the stapler but didn't view it as a threat worthy of a Taser response.

"Anything can be used as a weapon. But you have to use common sense," Webster said in an interview. "If you were to put weapons on a continuum with firearms at one end and paper clips at the other, this stapler would be down towards the paper clips."

Simon Fraser University criminologist Robert Gordon, an ex-police officer, said the four Mounties should have been able to handle Dziekanski without resorting to their Taser. He called the stapler rationale "a silly explanation for what took place and a measure of desperation the Mounties feel with respect to this incident."

Gordon acknowledged that a large stapler could "theoretically" do some some damage.

"Any police officer trained in basic forms of self-defence would not have a hard time dealing with someone with a stapler, and frankly I wouldn't be fearing for my security if someone was waving a stapler at me, even one with very large staples."

Gordon said the Mounties' reaction to the stapler was "atrocious police work." The criminologist said he dealt with many mentally ill and agitated people while working as a police officer in Britain.

"What was always drilled into me and worked for me was to just take your time," he said. "There's no rush. If somebody is threatening somebody else, then okay, you may need to intervene. But if a person is exhibiting psychotic symptoms or is agitated or drunk, then you just take your time and talk the person down, rather than taking a cowboy approach."

Gordon said the four officers should have been able to handle Dziekanski without resorting to any hardware.

"I would imagine they are feeling fairly shamed by it, and so they should."

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