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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Senior Mountie defends release of inaccurate information at Taser inquiry

May 6, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Mountie in charge of the unit that investigated Robert Dziekanski's death says he didn't correct wrong information released to the public because the inaccuracies weren't likely to impact potential witnesses.

Supt. Wayne Rideout, head of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team at the time of Dziekanski's death, told an inquiry Wednesday that he was trying to protect the integrity of the case by cutting off the flow of information after the initial gaffes. "It is on a very rare occasion that we have a good handle on that information early on," Rideout said.

"It takes days, it takes weeks, to really accumulate and get an understanding of what has taken place. It is not good practice to be releasing specific pieces of information."

Dziekanski died on the Vancouver International Airport floor in October 2007 after he was stunned several times by an RCMP Taser.

Mounties were summoned to deal with Dziekanski after he started throwing furniture in the international arrivals area. He'd wandered around lost for hours in the passengers-only area before the confrontation with police, unable to find his mother.

The RCMP initially said the would-be Polish immigrant was stunned twice, but later revealed the Taser had been deployed five times.

Rideout said correcting the figure wasn't likely to impact witness accounts.

"The media release that there had been two rather than five (jolts) would not really contaminate that particular evidence," he said. "What I was looking for was what (witnesses) actually observed and saw in the most pristine form possible."

Rideout appeared to contradict himself several times.

He said witnesses' memories are most accurate soon after an event but then said such accounts can be inaccurate.

Rideout said the RCMP did not correct initial information released to the public to ensure the investigation's integrity, but later admitted the force issued a news release a month after Dziekanski died to provide more information about the incident.

The release said Dziekanski showed signs of life after being handcuffed and was closely monitored by officers.

Rideout said he had told RCMP media relations officers to stop commenting on the case but that investigators issued the release after being told of a freedom of information request received by the Richmond Fire Department.

The department's captain, Kirby Graeme, had told investigators that police were monitoring Dziekanski when he arrived at the airport.

"I (issued the release) for reasons that I think were there to relieve all parties of this belief that officers just stood there while Mr. Dziekanski passed away," Rideout said. "It was from a degree of compassion and a degree of understanding."

He said the move violated his department's policy of not commenting on investigations in their infancy but denied self-interest was involved.

"I do not believe that that release was self-serving to our interests," Rideout said when questioned by Don Rosenbloom, lawyer for the government of Poland.

Outside the inquiry, Rosenbloom said the RCMP informed the media when it was in its own interest to do so.

"When it wasn't in their interest, for example, correcting the untruths that were stated by RCMP media people in the early stages, they didn't," he said.

"I could not understand the rationale behind (Rideout's) evidence and I hope the (inquiry) commissioner feels the same way about it."

During his testimony, Rideout also defended the force's reluctance to release an amateur videotape shot of the incident to its owner, saying it too was likely to taint witness accounts.

That videotape was released only after the videographer, Paul Pritchard, took legal action.

Rosenbloom and Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother, asked Rideout if leaving the inaccurate information in the public realm could have had a negative impact on the investigation and hindered potential witnesses.

Rideout said he did not think that was a factor.

Rosenbloom said after one witness came forward in the days following the incident to claim the Taser had been deployed at least four times, she was publicly rebuked by an RCMP media relations officer.

When asked if that was an intimidation factor by police, Rideout said, "I don't see it as intimidation at all."

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