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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

No cover-up in taser incident, lawyers contend

October 7, 2009
Ian Bailey, Globe and Mail

Lawyers for two of four Mounties involved in a fatal 2007 confrontation with Robert Dziekanski yesterday began fighting back against suggestions their clients were abusive police officers who conspired to taser the Polish immigrant and then covered up their plan.

The Braidwood inquiry into Mr. Dziekanski's death has heard closing arguments this week from lawyers for parties ranging from Mr. Dziekanski's mother to the Polish government and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The arguments had all come from police critics - until yesterday.

David Butcher, the lawyer for Constable Bill Bentley, dismissed suggestions the four officers failed to take time to come up with a plan for dealing with Mr. Dziekanski when they entered the international arrivals area of Vancouver airport early on Oct. 14, 2007, where the recently arrived Polish national was acting erratically.

Had police taken time to speak to witnesses, and otherwise delay, Mr. Dziekanski might have attacked a traveller or airport employee, Mr. Butcher told Thomas Braidwood, the retired B.C. appeal-court justice in charge of the process.

"There would, in such circumstances, have been legitimate outcry that the police had failed to act in their duty to, quickly enough, protect the public."

He said police were facing a challenging situation on arrival.

"Bentley and the other officers were confronted with an irrational, agitated, exhausted, aggressive and frightened man who had lost his senses somewhere during his long journey from Poland, who could not understand police directions and could not make himself understood," he said, painting a chaotic picture.

"He quickly became aggressive towards the police, who responded equally quickly in the way that their training had taught them was the best response in these sorts of circumstances."

In any event, he said, his client was a relatively junior officer following the orders of Corporal Benjamin Robinson. "It was not Bentley's responsibility or role to command the police presence or direct the other officers," he said.

Mr. Butcher also disputed allegations his client and the other officers were involved in some kind of cover-up - a suspicion that has been fuelled by the admission of a senior B.C. Mountie in an e-mail that another high-ranking officer told him the officers went into the situation planning to taser Mr. Dziekanski.

Mr. Dziekanski, 40, had arrived in Canada to begin a new life with his mother, who had come to the airport to meet him. Instead, he was tasered five times over 30 seconds and handcuffed. He died of cardiac arrest that has not been specifically linked to the use of the stun gun.

The e-mail, disclosed earlier in the summer, prompted the disclosure of 18,000 pages of evidence to the inquiry, but no other documents have turned up supporting the e-mail's suggestions. Its author stands by his report. Two other senior Mounties, including the officer quoted in the document, have said it is not accurate.

"There's not a single piece of paper to support that assertion," Mr. Butcher said of the allegations of an advance plan.

Ted Beaubier, the lawyer for Constable Gerry Rundel, said the officers did not have time to come up with a plan to taser Mr. Dziekanski because they received the report of trouble at the airport, proceeded directly to their vehicles and travelled, without stops, to the airport.

He also noted the incident involving Mr. Dziekanski was not so complicated or unusual for police officers that it required detailed preplanning.

"This is not a situation that should have caused any particular difficulty for the officers. Did it require preplanning? No."

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