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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Officer right to stun Dziekanski: lawyer

The RCMP officer who fired his Taser five times within seconds of confronting Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport did everything right, his lawyer said Wednesday at the inquiry into the man's death.

In his final submission to the inquiry, Ravi Hira said Const. Kwesi Millington was justified both when he used the Taser after Dziekanski picked up a stapler, and when he pulled the trigger four more times as the Polish immigrant screamed and writhed on the airport floor.

"In his dealings with Mr. Dziekanski, Const. Millington acted in accordance with his training," said Hira.

"Const. Millington acted appropriately and did not misconduct himself in any way."

The four officers involved in Dziekanski's death have been accused of acting too quickly and using too much force when they confronted him in the early morning of Oct. 14, 2007.

They have also been accused at the inquiry of covering up what happened by lying to investigators and at the hearings.

All of those allegations have the potential to make it into Commissioner Thomas Braidwood's final report if he concludes the officers acted improperly and makes findings of misconduct. He has warned the four Mounties that he's leaving that option open.

The officers were called to the airport after witnesses phoned 911 to report a man throwing luggage and breaking glass, and Hira said Millington arrived to find a man who appeared to be agitated.

'Perceived combative behaviour'
He said Millington calmly approached Dziekanski and used hand signals in an attempt to calm him down and ask for identification, but without success.

Then, Dziekanski picked up a stapler.

"Const. Millington perceived the male intended to attack, and perceived his behaviour as combative — this was a reasonable perception," said Hira.

"Const. Millington perceived the male was a threat to the officers and deployed the Taser."

Hira also defended the subsequent stuns. The Taser was fired five times, but Millington testified earlier that he didn't believe all were effective and he couldn't even remember the fifth.

The lawyer said Dziekanski was fighting back as officers tried to subdue him.

"He perceived that the male was kicking, fighting and struggling with the officers," said Hira.

'A fast-moving situation'
Hira cited police use-of-force experts who appeared at the inquiry, saying Millington's actions were appropriate, and he spoke at length about the accuracy of Millington's statements to homicide investigators, his notebook entries and an internal report about his Taser use.

Many of the same mistakes were made by several or all of the officers, including that Dziekanski came at the officers with the stapler raised above his head, stood through the first Taser jolt and had to be tackled to the ground. They have been held up as proof the officers lied.

Hira said the officers themselves were more equivocal about those facts than has been reported, acknowledging at times that they weren't sure. He also pointed out that other witnesses at the airport had similar recollections.

He said those discrepancies don't mean the officers or anyone else lied.

"This was a fast-moving and stressful situation for the witnesses, they had certain perceptions and observations, some of them had different perceptions than the video," he said.

Stapler use not clear
And other aspects of the confrontation, particularly what exactly Dziekanski was doing with the stapler, are obscured in the video because his back is to the camera.

He noted that, like the officers, several witnesses with a better view of the confrontation also remembered Dziekanski swinging the stapler, even if the officers now acknowledge it wasn't above his head.

"Some caution ought to be applied with regard to the use of the video and not, as suggested, that that is the end of it all," he said.

Crown prosecutors decided not to lay charges against Millington, Const. Bill Bentley, Const. Gerry Rundel and Cpl. Benjamin (Monty) Robinson, saying they acted with reasonable force in the circumstances.

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