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Monday, May 11, 2009

RCMP officer explains at Taser inquiry why officers didn't tackle Dziekanski

May 11, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — On the same day as a senior RCMP official apologized for Robert Dziekanski's death at Vancouver airport, one of the force's experts on the use of force was at a public inquiry defending the Mounties' policy of avoiding close contact.

RCMP Cpl. Greg Gillis said the four officers who confronted Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport in October 2007 were following RCMP policy - policy in place to protect officers [and] suspects.

Dziekanski was wielding a stapler when he was shocked multiple times by an RCMP Taser.

"Why not have the four police officers try to tackle him rather than using this device?" asked Ravi Hira, who is representing the officer who used the Taser on Dziekanski.

Gillis said it was for Dziekanski's safety as well as the officers'.

"The training now is that officers should try to avoid going into close contact and instead should try and use devices such as (pepper spray) or the (Taser) because they are intermediate devices," Gillis said.

He said the police baton is also an intermediate device.

"The goal is to use (intermediate weapons) at a distance so it allows for better assessment and it helps minimize the risk of injury to all parties involved, including the person you are restraining."

Dziekanski died Oct. 14, 2007 after Const. Kwesi Millington discharged the Taser five times. RCMP say it's unclear how many times the device made contact with Dziekanski.

In Ottawa, Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeney told a Senate committee Monday that the force is committed to learning as much as possible from the terrible event.

The statement is perhaps the clearest sign of public regret from the force over Dziekanski's death.

An RCMP spokesman has already apologized for misinformation given to the public in the days immediately after Dziekanski's death and the officers involved have told the inquiry they regret the death.

Gillis was testifying at the inquiry for the third time. He testified a year ago at the inquiry's first, more general phase, and again last month during the current phase looking specifically at Dziekanski's death.

He said experience has shown that multiple officers fighting with someone has consistently led to injury to officers and suspects.

"We've had clear direction through public policy that we should try and move away from those traditional tactics of officers moving in and fighting somebody and move to more humane methods," he said.

Gillis also said Millington's actions that night were consistent with RCMP training.

In April, Gillis told the inquiry that he had not seen the amateur video that captured the confrontation at the airport's international arrivals area between the four officers and Dziekanski.

But Gillis told the inquiry Monday that he analyzed the video and the actions of the officers for the first time earlier this month.

Last month, Gillis testified that the Mounties who confronted Dziekanski were told in training that there's no medical evidence that the high-voltage Taser disrupts breathing or the heart.

Gillis told the inquiry then 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 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.

Police were summoned to the airport after Dziekanski started throwing furniture. Within seconds of confronting him, Dziekanski was shocked.

Millington has told the inquiry that he did not initially believe the Taser was working because he heard a clacking sound.

Lawyers at the inquiry asked the commissioner Monday for a delay in making their final arguments, which were to begin at the end of the month.

The commissioner, Thomas Braidwood, said he would respond Tuesday.

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