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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Officers who Tasered Polish immigrant 'panicked,' inquiry hears

May 12, 2009
By Suzanne Fournier, Vancouver Province

VANCOUVER — A police psychologist testifying Tuesday at the inquiry into the death of a Polish immigrant in the Vancouver airport provided a devastating critique of the "excessive use of force" by four RCMP members who Tasered Robert Dziekanski less than a minute after meeting him.

"Fools rush in" was the scathing assessment of the RCMP's handling of Dziekanski delivered by Mike Webster, an RCMP training graduate with a doctorate in psychology who has consulted in crisis management, hostage-takings and kidnappings.

Webster, who has instructed police officers in Canada and the U.S., fired back after gruelling cross-examination by Reg Harris, the lawyer for Cpl. Benjamin Robinson.

Agreeing with Harris that the RCMP did need to get Dziekanski under control, Webster said the officers "failed to distinguish" between an upset, distraught man who needed help and a crisis to which they responded with force.

"They panicked," said Webster. "They panicked and they abandoned their basic training and they embraced their more recent and questionable Taser training provided for them by their misguided employer."

Webster's April 17, 2009, report released by the inquiry Tuesday said "It is difficult to believe that Cpl. Robinson, nor any of his members, had a plan," noting that a well-trained officer-in-charge "would remember to take a moment to formulate a plan.

"In their basic training these members would have heard the old adage 'if you fail to plan, you plan to fail,' many times from their instructors."

Webster did not agree with Harris that it was good planning by Robinson to let the three other "rookies" approach the unhappy Dziekanski, without giving them any instructions at all.

Robinson and the other officers all testified earlier there was no discussion at all before they drove in four cars to the airport and vaulted over a railing to greet Dziekanski.

Seconds later, Const. Kwesi Millington deployed the Taser twice in probe mode, and after Dziekanski lay howling and writhing on the floor, deployed the weapon three more times in "drive-stun" mode directly on the man's skin.

The "repeated cycling" of the Taser was "an excessive use of force" contrary to the officers' training, Webster said.

Dziekanski then was restrained with Robinson's knee forcefully placed on his upper back, handcuffed behind his back and seconds later, he lapsed into unconsciousness.

Richmond Fire Capt. Kirby Graeme has testified that by the time paramedics got to the scene, Dziekanski was not breathing, deeply "cyanotic" or blue and likely was already dead. None of the officers gave him oxygen or first aid.

"Mr. Dziekanski wasn't going anywhere and none of the public was in immediate danger," Webster pointed out, saying the RCMP officers could have easily contained the man and sorted out his problems without hurting him.

Webster said that Dziekanski was clearly upset, after his "gruelling journey" of more than 30 hours from Poland to Vancouver without meeting his mother, and that he actually was glad to see the RCMP arrive to help him, calling out "Polizia, polizia," and dropping his hands to his side in a release of tension.

But then, Webster said, RCMP gave him conflicting commands to get his passport and when he turned to his suitcase to get it, told him to move away from his luggage and put his hands on the counter.

"Following the contrary commands came the pointing of at least one black leather-clad finger," said Webster, noting Dziekanski then threw up his hands in exasperation. Then came what Webster called the "circling of the wagons," as the officer surrounded him with their hands on their duty belts in a menacing fashion.

Said Webster: "Mr. Dziekanski was their client and it was their responsibility, not his, to take control and calm him down."

Webster will be back on the stand Wednesday.

The inquiry is slated to finish hearing evidence this Thursday.

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