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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Psychologist defends claim Mounties panicked in airport Taser incident

May 13, 2009
CBC News

A police psychologist, who testified four RCMP panicked when they stunned Robert Dziekanski with a Taser, defended himself against accusations of bias at the Braidwood inquiry on Wednesday.

Dziekanski died minutes after he was stunned up to five times with a Taser by four RCMP officers in the arrivals lounge of Vancouver International airport in October 2007.

At the inquiry into Dziekanski's death currently under way in Vancouver, psychologist Mike Webster testified that after analyzing what happened, he believes the Mounties who confronted the Polish immigrant used excessive force.

But Webster's critical assessment did not sit well with Ravi Hira, the lawyer for the officer who fired the Taser. Hira suggested Webster did something wrong at the first phase of the inquiry last year, when Webster said he was embarrassed to be associated with a police force that uses a Taser on people like Dziekanski.

Hira seized on that past comment as evidence that Webster's opinion was too tainted for him to give expert testimony at the inquiry on Wednesday. "He should not have been retained, given the bias," said Hira.

But the inquiry's commissioner, Thomas Braidwood, interrupted Hira, saying, "It's totally unfair to make those allegations without putting it to the doctor."

Webster defended his reputation, saying the College of Psychologists of B.C. was aware of what he had said in the past, and what he was telling the inquiry on Wednesday.

"If you think I'm misrepresenting myself, I suggest you make a complaint to the College and they'll turf me in an instant if they agree with you," he shot back.

Use of Taser 'excessive force'
Webster said it pained him to make the criticisms, as he makes his living advising police forces, and he's been close to the RCMP for more than 30 years. But he maintained he was not the only one that believed what happened at the airport in October 2007 wasn't good police work.

"I don't think I'm the only one that holds that opinion. Conservatively, three-quarters of the country holds the same opinion, Mr. Hira," he said.

Webster, whose expertise in crisis situations such as hostage-takings and kidnappings has been sought by the FBI and law enforcement agencies from Colombia to Iraq, said his critical opinion of the officers' conduct has made him a pariah at the RCMP, and his previously regular work with the force had since dried up to next to nothing.

The expert in police psychology testified on Tuesday that all four RCMP officers panicked when they resorted to using a Taser to subdue Robert Dziekanski.

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

Webster said he believed the officers rushed into the situation, contrary to what they're taught, making things worse by surrounding Dziekanski, then bombarding him with conflicting commands as their hands hovered over their tool belts.

Furthermore, the decision to fire the Taser on a man with a stapler was a level-nine response to a level-two threat, he testified, adding, "This arguably makes the second, third, fourth and fifth cycles of the Taser an excessive use of force."

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