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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Taser did more to kill Dziekanski than restraint: Expert

May 14, 2009
By Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun

Being Tasered five times by RCMP officers contributed more to the death of Robert Dziekanski than being physically restrained by police, an expert doctor told the Braidwood inquiry Thursday.

Dr. Keith Chambers, a Vancouver epidemiologist, found there were two factors that contributed to the Polish man's death at the Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007 — the five Taser shots fired at Dziekanski and the subsequent physical restraint by four Mounties.

He said the Tasering of Dziekanski appears on the bystander-shot video to have been a great deal more stressful to him than the act of physical restraint.

"The video shows the greater impact on Mr. Dziekanski of the Taser," Chambers told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired judge.

The doctor's report on Dziekanski's death, submitted as evidence, concluded "the act of Tasering Mr. Dziekanski for 31 seconds over a period of 49 seconds contributed more to his stress response and subsequent demise than physical restraint."

The doctor was vigorously cross-examined by a lawyer representing the U.S. manufacturer of the conducted energy weapon.

But Chambers disagreed with the lawyer's suggestion that Dziekanski's death was coincidental to being Tasered.

"I couldn't disagree more," Chambers testified.

"To say it's coincident is wrong. Mr. Dziekanski died for a reason."

Getting jolted by the weapon's 50,000 volts of electricity "must be quite frightening, very painful and quite dangerous in terms of falls and other issues," Chambers said.

He also suggested the Taser could have malfunctioned and delivered a higher electrical current that expected.

Chambers pointed out that Dziekanski had been in a state of stress when he left his home in Poland 20 hours earlier and spent another stressful nine hours looking for his mother at Vancouver's airport.

'He was doing well — he did not have a cardiac arrest," the doctor pointed out of the period before police arrived.

"Something happened when the officers did the intervention," he added.

Police were called when Dziekanski began throwing furniture.

Seconds after police arrived, Dziekanski was Tasered and handcuffed. He stopped breathing and died at the scene.

Chambers concluded the "mechanism of death was most likely the creation of a hyperadrenergic state that caused or brought on a fatal arrhythmia."

Hyperadrenergic state is used to describe the physiological response to acute stress that triggers adrenalin and may have caused Dziekanski to hyperventilate and increase his blood pressure and heartbeat.

Chambers said he couldn't rule out the possibility of "direct capture of the heart" by the Taser shocks and the development of ventricular tachycardia, or a rapid irregular heartbeat.

Dr. Charles Kerr, a Vancouver cardiologist, testified by phone from Boston that Dziekanski had normal blood pressure and a relatively normal heartbeat, based on medical evidence from Poland.

Kerr submitted a report last month to the inquiry, saying: "I am in complete support of Dr. Chambers' thoughtful and succinct 'summary opinion.'

"It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Taser applications contributed as a major cause of Mr. Dziekanski's death, certainly through metabolic effects and development of a hyperadrenergic state, but not excluding a direct induction of a ventricular arrhythmia by the Taser application."

Kerr's report said he believes "that there is a very high probability that the multiple Taser applications were instrumental in the development of malignant ventricular arrhythmias and death."

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