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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Top-level Mountie decided not to correct Dziekanski facts, inquiry told

April 22, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — A senior Mountie handling the RCMP's public response to Robert Dziekanski's death at Vancouver airport says he watched a witness video of Dziekanski's death twice and didn't want to see it again.

Cpl. Dale Carr told a public inquiry into the death that he saw the video of the last moments of Dziekanski's life at a homicide briefing the morning he died.

"I didn't have a desire to rewatch it," Carr said Wednesday during his appearance at the inquiry. "I just found it upsetting and didn't really want to see it again."

The RCMP spokesman said it was clear within two days of Dziekanski's Oct. 14, 2007, death that some of the information being provided to the public was wrong.

But Carr, media relations officer for the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, said he decided not to correct the misleading information.

Carr said the homicide unit's boss, Supt. Wayne Rideout, decided two days after the incident that public statements should focus on the investigation process, not on potential evidence.

"It was decided that we weren't going to attempt to try and correct any of that information until we had all of the facts and all of the evidence before us," Carr said. "I knew that eventually this would all come out at the proverbial end of the day."

Dziekanski died after being stunned several times with a Taser in a confrontation with RCMP officers at the international arrivals area of the airport. Police were summoned after Dziekanski began throwing furniture.

In the hours after his death, RCMP made several crucial mistakes in describing what happened.

Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, the spokesman for the force in the case, told reporters Dziekanski had been stunned twice when, in fact, the Taser had been deployed five times.

He said Dziekanski had been struggling with officers and swinging an object at them, although the bystander's video shows otherwise and that three, not four, Mounties faced off against the agitated man, who spoke no English.

When the witness video, shot by Paul Pritchard of Victoria, was broadcast after the Mounties returned it to him, the discrepancies sparked an international furor that, in part, led to the inquiry currently underway.

Lemaitre, senior RCMP spokesman at the time, earlier told the inquiry that Carr was his sole source of information about the incident.

Carr said Wednesday that he quickly realized an in-custody death - especially involving a Taser and at the airport - would excite a lot of media attention, including outside Canada.

He and Lemaitre attended a homicide unit briefing and viewed the video before heading to the airport to talk to reporters, Carr told the inquiry.

He said he took notes during the briefing but admitted they don't show precisely where some of the erroneous information came from. No one who spoke is identified in the notes and Carr said he can't recall the names 18 months later.

Carr was at Lemaitre's side for media scrums at the airport but testified he paid little attention to what the senior spokesman was saying.

He suggested Lemaitre may have embellished some of facts, including the number of times Dziekanski was stunned.

"I gave Sgt. Lemaitre the information that's here in my notebook," Carr said. "Additional information, additional editorial comments that Sgt. Lemaitre made, I can't be confident that I gave him that information."

Lemaitre was taken off the case after 48 hours, mainly for logistical reasons, Carr said.

The two had agreed at the outset the best strategy was to get timely and accurate information out to the media without compromising the investigation.

Carr said he became aware there were mistakes in the public statements that releasing the video could have cleared up.

But investigators considered the recording as evidence, he said, and did not want to release it and risk tainting the independent recollections of witnesses.

Carr said the case was evolving from an in-custody death to a criminal probe, where discussing the evidence could derail a future court case.

"I was prepared to say that we're not going to talk about the video, we're not going to talk about evidence until the entire investigation is complete," he said.

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