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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Lawyer alleges conspiracy at B. C. Taser probe

October 7, 2009
Brian Hutchinson, National Post

The four RCMP officers who confronted Polish traveller Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007 had conspired, in a "self-serving collaboration," to "fabricate an untruthful version of events," the lawyer alleged.

They covered up and lied, claimed Mr. Rosenbloom, appearing at the inquiry for the Government of the Republic of Poland. The four officers "misled" homicide investigators following the incident, he continued. They created an "almost identical and fictional account" of their ill-fated interaction with Mr. Dziekanski, who died during the encounter.

They "lied under oath" at this inquiry, claimed Mr. Rosenbloom, in "an intentional act to subvert the course of justice."

Police conspiracy. Perjury. These are the boldest allegations heard to date at the inquiry called to examine events that led to Mr. Dziekanski's death.

Mr. Rosenbloom wasn't finished. He asked inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood to make findings of misconduct against all four officers, plus three other RCMP officers who, he alleged, either suppressed information about the airport fatality or "deliberately or negligently disseminated false information" about the event to media.

A 40-year-old Pole, Mr. Dziekanski landed in Vancouver on Oct. 14, 2007. Perhaps frustrated by an inability to communicate with airport workers and border officials, some of whom displayed indifference, and angry after a shouting match with an airport limo driver, Mr. Dziekanski caused a disturbance at an airport arrivals area.

The four RCMP officers were called; within seconds, an officer deployed a Taser at Mr. Dziekanski, hitting him once with an electrical charge. He was wrestled with on the ground and was shocked four more times with the Taser. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he soon died.

Mr. Rosenbloom alleged the four officers displayed a "reckless disregard for the care and safety of Mr. Dziekanski" by not providing him with proper medical assistance at the scene.

The lawyer also called into question a closing submission made to the inquiry by the Government of Canada, on behalf of the RCMP.

It suggested that Constable Kwesi Millington, the officer who deployed the Taser on Mr. Dziekanski multiple times, acted with justification because his target had "remained upright, moving away from the officers" after being struck the first time.

"I challenge that," Mr. Rosenbloom said. He referred to a videotape of the incident, made by airport passerby Paul Pritchard.

Mr. Rosenbloom said the video evidence showed Mr. Dziekanski "was in the process of a free fall" after the first Taser deployment. There was no reason to jolt him once, let alone four more times, he said.

Lawyers for the Government of Canada chose not to deliver their closing submissions orally; they provided only written submissions that are available for viewing at the Braidwood Inquiry website along with other closing submissions ( www.braidwoodinquiry.ca).

Lawyers for two of the four RCMP officers delivered their closing submissions yesterday.

Allegations made in the morning by Mr. Rosenbloom were "irresponsible," argued Ted Beaubier, who represents RCMP Constable Gerry Rundel at the inquiry. "They pander to emotions. [They are] inflammatory and, I say, reckless."

The evidence does not support them, submitted Mr. Beaubier. He reminded the inquiry that the conduct of each officer must be examined separately.

Const. Rundel was a junior RCMP officer the night that Mr. Dziekanski died. He acted in the role of a "cover man," not a "contact man," during the confrontation, said Mr. Beaubier, and he had little if any direct interaction Mr. Dziekanski.

The officer did make statements to homicide investigators after the incident that did not conform to events, but there was no intention to mislead. Rather, there were errors in memory, said his lawyer.

The four officers had not formulated a plan to Taser Mr. Dziekanski before they entered the airport, as suggested previously at the inquiry. The notion is "beyond ridiculous," Mr. Beaubier said. They had no time to devise such a plot, he said. Any planning would have been recorded or overheard; none was. There was no conspiracy, he added.

"Are there officers that would lie" in an attempt to mitigate their roles in a contentious in-custody death? "Probably," he said. Would his client? "Exceedingly unlikely."

There should be no finding of misconduct against Const. Rundel, he concluded.

Representing RCMP Constable Bill Bentley, lawyer David Butcher took a similar tack. His client was "the most junior officer" at the time of the incident, he submitted to the inquiry yesterday. While his role "was limited," he faces allegations "that could destroy a reputation."

Mr. Butcher went on to cite case law, and expert witness evidence presented at the inquiry that was favourable to his client. Const. Bentley might have made errors in his notes and in his statements to investigators, but there was no cover-up.

Mr. Butcher submitted that Mr. Dziekanski had behaved in bizarre fashion before he died. He might have caused damage inside the airport had police not responded to complaints about him, Mr. Butcher said. "He was certainly arrest-able."

More closing submissions from RCMP lawyers will be heard today.

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