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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Taser victim had nothing to fear, officer says

March 4, 2009
Toronto Star

VANCOUVER – Robert Dziekanski had no cause to be afraid, even though four armed officers were surrounding him, hands poised to grab their weapons, insisted the RCMP constable who stunned him numerous times with a Taser.

If Dziekanski had done nothing wrong, there would have been no reason for him to be fearful of police, Const. Kwesi Millington said yesterday, his second day under cross-examination at the public inquiry into the Polish man's death at Vancouver airport in 2007.

"To be in a foreign country and encircled with four officers with their hands down by their holsters would cause a person to be in fear," said Don Rosenbloom, the lawyer representing the Republic of Poland.

But Millington disagreed. "I don't expect that to be the case," he said.

However, earlier in the inquiry, Millington said the officers, all of whom were wearing body armour and had pepper spray, batons and service revolvers, were fearful of their own safety and that's why he used the Taser.

"I feared for the safety of the other officers and I acted to stop the threat," he said.

Rosenbloom accused Millington, a two-year veteran of the force at the time of the incident on Oct. 14, 2007, of wanting to use the Taser. Millington had been trained to use it and was the only one of the four officers carrying a Taser that night.

"You were looking forward to deploying it," said Rosenbloom. "This was almost a toy for you."

Millington said he considered the weapon as a tool, much like the pepper spray and baton he also carried, and that he had been taught it was "one of the least injurious means of getting a hold of a subject."

Under cross-examination by Rosenbloom and Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski's family, Millington admitted again yesterday that statements he made to police shortly after the incident were incorrect.

The notes he made immediately after firing the Taser, including the information that the 40-year-old Dziekanski had been screaming and coming toward the officers with a stapler held up in his hand, were his recollections at the time, Millington said.

He denied using the Taser five times. He maintains he can recall firing only four times.

Millington said he had been trained not to fire the weapon multiple times at one subject and that he was supposed to give a warning before firing, known as the challenge: "Police. Stop or you'll be hit with 50,000 volts of electricity."

But there was no time to give the warning, Millington said, because the other three officers were having trouble subduing Dziekanski, who was writhing on the floor after the first shot.

At one point during the day, Millington, who is now stationed in a Toronto-area detachment, came face to face with Zofia Cisowski, Dziekanski's mother.

Earlier in the inquiry, Cisowski had angrily rejected the words of another officer involved in the incident, Const. Bill Bentley, when he expressed his sorrow. But she greeted Millington softly and the officer gave her a short, respectful bow.

"I know that I will have to accept this and go on, but it is very difficult," Cisowski said to a reporter outside the inquiry.

The Crown and RCMP announced in December that the four officers will not face criminal charges, but changes in their accounts of the events of that night have raised questions about whether the RCMP might reopen its investigation. All three officers who have testified so far said they made errors in their statements. They changed their recollections after viewing a video shot by a bystander.

Neil MacKenzie, a spokesperson for the criminal justice branch, said in an interview yesterday that Crown counsel relied on the officers' statements in determining whether or not to proceed with charges.

"If there are additional materials that affect the evidence they provided to us, that would have to come from the RCMP," said MacKenzie. But he said the force has not submitted anything else.

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