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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dziekanski's death linked to Tasering: Pathologist

April 29, 2009
Suzanne Fournier, The Province

An eminent forensic pathologist told the Braidwood inquiry Wednesday morning that Robert Dziekanski’s death — after five Taser jolts and restraint by the RCMP — was likely a “cardiac-related” death linked to the Tasering.

Dr. John Butt, a forensic pathologist with almost 40 years’ experience who was awarded the Order of Canada in 2000 for his work, disagreed with the report by pathologist Dr. Charles Lee that failed to mention use of the Taser but did conclude “chronic alcoholism” contributed to Dziekanski’s death.

Nor did Lee make any mention of marks on Dziekanski’s back — which were photographed by homicide detectives present at Lee’s autopsy of Dziekanski — that were consistent with the puncture marks of Taser probes.

Butt said that Lee’s failure to mention the Taser and traces of it on Dziekanski’s body were significant oversights.

Butt also disputed Lee’s conclusion that Dziekanski’s heart showed signs of alcohol-related damage and disagreed that with Lee that “chronic alcoholism” could be said to be a “contributory factor” to Dziekanski’s death.

“I think this is probably a cardiac-related death 'de novo,' a new event unheralded by previous symptoms,” said Butt, noting that he reviewed Dziekanski’s health records back to 1994 and found “no indication” of heart problems or high blood pressure.

“Dr. Lee concluded, in part, that alcoholic heart disease ‘would have put (RD) at increased risk for development of an arrhythmia and sudden death,’” noted Butt. “After finding the microscopic slides of the heart to be essentially normal, I was unable to conclude that the features that I saw represented alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

“Nothing in those [health records] suggests that he was a drinker, either,” said Butt, although he said he did agree with Lee that Dziekanksi’s fatty liver and a partly deteriorated section of his brain were serious signs of alcoholism.

Butt’s report, released by the inquiry Wednesday, questioned why Lee, who viewed a bystander video of Dziekanski crashing to the floor and screaming in pain after being Tasered, mentioned Dziekanski’s agitation but not the Taser.

“Given the circumstances of the death of Dziekanski, in my experience it would be uncommon for the role of a weapon (e.g. Taser) to be left without a discussion as was so in Lee’s report,” noted Butt’s report.

Butt also urged that “caution is advisable about use of the term ‘excited delirium,’” which has often been cited as a cause of death following Taser use. Butt said that “diagnosis” is “questioned by those practicing psychiatry . . . often is defined by persons who have neither training in nor experience with aberrant behaviour.”

Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski’s mother Zofia Cisowski, replayed the bystander video shot by Paul Pritchard and Butt agreed that Dziekanski can clearly be seen clutching his heart and howling with pain after being Tasered.

Butt also agreed that Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson can be seen on the video kneeling on Dziekanski’s upper back and neck with considerable force.

Dziekanski began turning blue shortly after that “restraint,” which Butt told Kosteckyj is an indication he may also have been in respiratory distress.

Snoring noises emitted by Dziekanski, as he lay facedown in handcuffs, may have been “agonal breathing,” a feature Butt said is common in deaths that he has reviewed.

Concluded Butt, whose testimony continues Wednesday afternoon: “I believe that increasing exertion and stress seen following the dischrage of the Taser likely contributed to the death of Robert Dziekanski.”

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