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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Correcting details of Taser death would have hindered investigation, inquiry hears

May 6, 2009

A senior Mountie who oversaw the investigation into the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski chose not to correct misinformation given out to the public about the RCMP's use of a Taser against the Polish immigrant in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, a public inquiry heard Wednesday.

Supt. Wayne Rideout testified that correcting the details police initially gave the media about the number of times RCMP officers stunned Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport and other circumstances surrounding the incident would have jeopardized any potential criminal investigation by opening up a public debate about what happened.

"We must continue to follow the evidence despite the fact [that] there will be public criticism and accusations the police were hiding things," Rideout wrote in an email at the time.

Rideout read from the email during his testimony Wednesday before the Braidwood inquiry, which is looking into Dziekanski 's death.

The inquiry heard last month that in the first two days after Dziekanski died on Oct. 14, 2007, the RCMP's public statements on the incident contained false information about how many officers were involved, how many times Dziekanski was stunned, whether there was video evidence of the confrontation and what state Dziekanski was in when approached by officers.

RCMP Cpl. Dale Carr testified last month he went to Rideout seeking to correct the record but was told to hold off because "everything will be corrected eventually."

Rideout ordered a blackout on giving the public any more facts about the incident following the initial media briefings, the court heard Wednesday.

Rideout admitted it might look bad and would come at a cost to the RCMP's public relations, but insisted that correcting the record would have put the RCMP in the position of entering into a public debate.

"I believe the potential criticism was if those four officers were ultimately charged and proceeded to trial, the criticism would or could have come from the Crown… or their defence," he said.

There was also another consideration, Rideout testified.

"We would not want to be caught in a position where we're defending or rationalizing any of their action," he said.

Rideout was referring to the four RCMP officers — Cpl. Monty Robinson, Const. Gerry Rundel, Const. Bill Bentley and Const. Kwesi Millington — who had been sent to the airport's international arrivals lounge in response to reports that Dziekanski was throwing furniture and causing a scene.

But a month after Dziekanski's death, Rideout authorized a news release in which the RCMP claimed the four Mounties had continuously monitored Dziekanski before he died, the inquiry heard.

Rideout broke his own blackout after learning that information from first responders was about to be made public suggesting the officers had been doing no such thing, the inquiry heard.

"The information about whether Mr. Dziekanski had a pulse or was monitored for any particular time [or] was in our possession.... I did not foresee any of those issues would result in a criminal prosecution," Rideout testified.

The provincial inquiry was called in the wake of Dziekanski's death and is being overseen by Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Court of Appeal justice. Braidwood will make recommendations to prevent similar incidents, and he could make findings of misconduct against the officers or anyone else involved.

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