April 23, 2009
The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Mounties who confronted Robert Dziekanski and stunned him with a Taser were told in training there's no medical evidence the high-voltage device disrupts breathing or the heart, says the officer who trained them.
Instead, Cpl. Gregg Gillis told the public inquiry into Dziekanski's death that the RCMP's Taser training course warns about the risk of sports-type injuries such as pulled muscles or ligaments and even stress fractures, especially with multiple stuns.
Gillis, the B.C. RCMP's use-of-force expert, testified there's no medical evidence that conducted-energy weapons like the Taser can cause death or interfere with core body functions such as respiration and cardiac function.
However, increased exposure carries increased injury risk, he said Thursday.
The initial risk comes in the first standard five-second application, when the target loses control of their muscles and falls limply to the ground, said Gillis. After that, muscle spasms can create "stress-type injuries similar to a sporting event," he said.
"Equally, if I do more than one, I continue to increase the risk of those sort of injuries," said Gillis.
Those risks should be factored in when officers check the subject after using the Taser, he said.
Gillis, who appeared at the inquiry last May to talk generally about Taser use, put constables Gerry Rundel, Bill Bentley and Kwesi Millington - who used his Taser on Dziekanski - through a two-day training program in the summer of 2007. All three passed and received a three-year Taser certification.
The officers' training reinforced the RCMP's policy on the reasonable use of force, said Gillis.
"They are held accountable to the standards set by Canadian society, that their actions should be reasonable based on the totality of circumstances as to what we would expect a reasonably trained police officer to do in a similar set of circumstances," he said.
Dziekanski died Oct. 14, 2007, at Vancouver airport's international arrivals area after being confronted by four Mounties summoned after he started throwing furniture.
Dziekanski stopped breathing as he lay handcuffed on the floor.
Millington deployed the Taser five times. He told the inquiry he did not believe the device worked initially because he heard a clacking sound.
Gillis, who discussed training and not the incident itself, said trainees are shown a PowerPoint slide that says "silence is golden."
He said it means that if they hear the clacking sound, it could indicate the Taser's fish hook-shaped probes have snagged in clothing and are not creating a complete circuit, which could decrease or even negate the electrical jolt.
Trainees are taught to use sound combined with their observation of the target's behaviour as indicators of the Taser's effectiveness, Gillis said.
Dziekanski spoke no English and the officers deployed their Taser just seconds after backing him up against an airport counter.
Gillis said officers are taught to reassess before each Taser use if there's time and warned they will have to justify jolting someone for more than the standard five seconds.
However, he said the Taser's built-in timer rounds up fractions and some longer deployments in push-stun mode - where the Taser is pressed directly against a person - include seconds where the unit is not actually touching the body.
Gillis's testimony was limited to the Mounties' training program but the commission may recall him to comment on the circumstances of their encounter with Dziekanski based on a set of facts agreed to by all sides.
The veteran officer, who also teaches other Mounties to be Taser instructors, revealed he has never seen the infamous video of Dziekanski's final moments that in part sparked this inquiry.
"You would wonder how the use-of-force expert for the province of British Columbia for the RCMP would not have taken the opportunity to review a Tasering event that has attracted worldwide attention," said Walter Kosteckyj, lawyer for Dziekanski's mother Zofia Cisowski.
"But that's what he says."
Campaigning B.C. Green party leader Jane Sterk took advantage of the inquiry to call for banning Taser use and replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Thursday, April 23, 2009
April 23, 2009