You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

'Innocent explanation' for RCMP inaccuracies, gov't lawyer tells Taser inquiry

April 14, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Erroneous statements by the four RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski's death were nothing more than innocent mistakes, not a sign of a cover-up, says a lawyer for the federal government.

A public inquiry into what happened when Dziekanski was stunned with a Taser at Vancouver's airport has heard of numerous inaccuracies between a witness video and the statements officers gave to homicide investigators after the fatal encounter.

All four officers initially told investigators Dziekanski was yelling as they arrived at the airport arrivals area early the morning of Oct. 14, 2007, and moving toward them swinging a stapler.

They said he continued standing after the first shock and had to be wrestled to the floor.

But the Mounties recanted at the inquiry, where the witness video has been played again and again, refuting the version of events they gave before the video surfaced.

The lawyer for the Polish government has accused the officers of outright lying, but a lawyer for the federal government said Tuesday that is not the case.

"Much time was spent attempting to highlight the fact that there were some discrepancies and suggesting that there was some nefarious explanation," Jan Brongers told the inquiry.

"My point is that other witnesses, too, have had discrepancies between what they told police and that there is a perfectly innocent explanation."

The officers made similar errors in the notes they jotted in their police notebooks at the scene and in other internal reports about what happened.

When the officers testified at the inquiry, they said they gave their best recollections of a fast-paced, stressful situation.

Crown prosecutors announced last December that Cpl. Monty Robinson, Const. Bill Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington and Const. Gerry Rundel would not be charged in Dziekanski's death, saying they used reasonable force.

In announcing the decision, B.C. Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Stan Lowe said the officers' statements were "materially consistent" with the amateur video of the confrontation, although he didn't elaborate on that point.

The errors have led some, including Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, to call for that decision to be reconsidered.

The province's attorney general, Wally Oppal, said prosecutors have the power to reconsider charges if they receive new evidence.

But Oppal told The Canadian Press he was merely "talking theory," and cautioned that he hasn't seen anything so far that he believes could change the decision on charges.

"All I said is that if new evidence emerges, there's always a possibility to lay charges, but I didn't specifically say in this case it would happen," said Oppal, who has made similar comments in the past.

Oppal said he's "not prepared to buy in" that there was a significant change in evidence and there were false statements made.

The Crown has said it would be up to homicide investigators to decide whether to re-open the case. The RCMP has said the decision will have to wait until after the inquiry.

Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother, said the officers' inaccuracies beg for a second look - and that second look shouldn't be in the hands of the RCMP themselves.

"Whenever there is a police incident, it's high time we had completely independent oversight. We cannot have police investigating themselves," Kosteckyj said outside the inquiry.

The inquiry is also scheduled to hear from two RCMP spokesmen this week - Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre and Cpl. Dale Carr - who handled the storm of media coverage immediately after Dziekanski's death.

Parts of the RCMP's initial accounts were called into question when the eye-witness video was made public more than a month later.

For example, Lemaitre repeatedly insisted the officers tried to calm Dziekanski down, but the tape shows the man was stunned within seconds of the four Mounties arriving.

The sergeant also said the Taser's internal computer recorded just two jolts - even though the weapon was used five times.

Another federal government lawyer asked the inquiry commissioner, retired judge Thomas Braidwood, whether the officers' testimony would be relevant.

"Neither were involved in the investigation of his death or the events at the airport - in other words, they have no first-hand knowledge," Helen Roberts said Tuesday.

"Given your understanding of your mandate ... Canada is asking whether you want to hear from these media relations officers."

Braidwood said he can't decide in advance whether the officers' testimony would be useful, and asked that they appear.

No comments: