April 21, 2009
By Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun
A former media relations officer for RCMP headquarters admitted he made factual errors during media interviews one day after a fatal incident at Vancouver's airport in 2007.
Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre recalled Tuesday at the Braidwood Inquiry that his strategy was "to get out as much information as possible" about the fatal incident involving Robert Dziekanski.
He initially told the media that the man died after he was violent at the airport and was Tasered twice.
Lemaitre said in one CTV interview, played at the inquiry, that the man didn't respond to the first Taser shot so the weapon had to be deployed again.
Dziekanski died after he encountered four Mounties at the airport about 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 14, 2007, and was Tasered five times.
Lemaitre admitted, under questioning by commission counsel Art Vertlieb, that he had a watched a portion of the video taken by an airport bystander before making any statements to the media, but hadn't noticed Dziekanski fell after the first Taser shot.
Lemaitre, then the senior RCMP media relations officer and now working in the traffic section, recalled he initially got a phone call at 4:30 a.m., about three hours after the fatal incident, from Cpl. Dale Carr, who said there may be international media interest in the incident.
Carr asked Lemaitre to meet him at the Richmond RCMP detachment, where there was a "briefing" about 7:30 a.m. attended by about a dozen officers, including Cpl. Monty Robinson, one of the officers involved in the in-custody death.
Lemaitre recalled asking Carr: "Dale, what is it you want me to say?"
He added he didn't take any notes during the briefing but an RCMP news release was typed up.
"How is it that your information was inaccurate?" Vertlieb asked.
"That was the information I had obtained that morning," Lemaitre said.
"My only point of contact was Cpl. Dale Carr...I did not receive information from any other source than Cpl. Carr."
Lemaitre said by the time he realized he had provided the media with incorrect information, Carr had taken over being spokesman for the investigation by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT).
He added he thought Carr would correct the facts later when he saw fit.
He said he did "absolutely not" intentionally give the media inaccurate information.
"Contrary to popular belief, we are not spin doctors," Lemaitre said.
The RCMP didn't reveal that five Taser shots were fired until last Dec. 12, when Crown announced no charges would be laid against the officers involved in the Dziekanski incident.
Carr is expected to testify next.
Earlier Tuesday, a police Taser expert testified that multiple Taser shocks could cause the person's arms and legs to lock up.
"I've experienced that myself," recalled Delta police Const. Craig Baltzer, who has been Tasered about 30 times for durations of up to 15 seconds.
He said he has seen a person receive multiple shocks and be unable to move their arms or legs because the debilitating electrical current from the weapon "locks up" the muscles.
Baltzer, who trains officers on the use of Tasers, said police are taught that multiple Taser shocks can be hazardous.
"It's a situation to be aware of because you are putting people through an extreme workout," he explained.
"Everything is ramped up," he said, adding the body reacts to the "shock and awe from the experience" of 50,000 volts being discharged from the weapon.
The inquiry is probing the death of Dziekanski, 40, who had left his home in Poland about 30 hours earlier and had come to Canada to live with his mother.
But the mother and son never connected at the airport.
The mother had told her son she would meet him at the baggage carousel, not realizing it was in the international arrivals area, which is inaccessible to the public.
After waiting many hours for her son in the public area, the mother went home after being told by airport officials that Dziekanski could not be found.
Dziekanski eventually became agitated and began throwing around a chair and laptop computer.
Police received a 911 call reporting a possibly intoxicated man throwing around luggage.
Dziekanski, who had no alcohol in his system, likely was suffering delirium from prolonged lack of sleep and dehydration.
Four RCMP officers arrived and tried to speak with Dziekanski, who spoke no English.
The Polish man threw up his hands and grabbed a stapler, prompting an officer to deploy a Taser, causing the man to fall to the floor.
The Taser was deployed another four times because police believed Dziekanski was resisting having his hands handcuffed behind his back.
He died at the scene minutes later.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
April 21, 2009