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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Taser video unreliable, Mounties' lawyers say

Brian Hutchinson, National Post
October 08, 2009

Lawyers representing three of the four RCMP officers at the Braidwood inquiry adopted a new line in defence of their clients yesterday: Beware the video.

"The video evidence has limitations," lawyer David Butcher told the inquiry yesterday, as he delivered his final submission before Commissioner Thomas Braidwood. Mr. Butcher represents RCMP Constable Bill Bentley.

"The video has its own frailties," seconded lawyer Ravi Hira, delivering his final submission on behalf of RCMP Constable Kwesi Millington, the officer who jolted Mr. Dziekanski five times with his RCMP-issued Taser weapon at Vancouver International Airport two years ago.

The video "is unreliable," said Reg Harris, who represents Corporal Benjamin Monty Robinson, the senior officer at the scene.

The video, of course, refers to what others believe is the clearest, most impartial piece of evidence presented at the inquiry, being held to examine events that led to Mr. Dziekanski's death at Vancouver's airport.

Were it not for footage of Mr. Dziekanski's encounter with the four RCMP officers, it would have received scant notice. His death would not have caused international outrage.

Without the 10-minute video, made by passerby Paul Pritchard, retired justice Thomas Braidwood would not have been asked to lead a two-phased inquiry and no recommendations about Taser use would have been produced.

The four officers who confronted Mr. Dziekanski might still be on the job at the airport, and not reassigned to desk positions or to the B. C. hinterland.

Indeed, the video had instant value. The inquiry has already heard evidence that the RCMP seized it from Mr. Pritchard at the airport. Senior Mounties tried to keep the video from him, and from the public; it took a judge's order to force police to return it. Mr. Pritchard then shared the video with the media.

Mr. Butcher told the inquiry yesterday he wished his client had been able to view the video prior to the inquiry. "That would have been helpful," Mr. Butcher said. The video would have improved his client's accuracy.

While Const. Bentley gave "generally reliable" evidence to investigators, he did, unintentionally, make one mistake, said his lawyer.

In a statement to investigators, Const. Bentley said he and his fellow officers had wrestled a defiant and fighting Mr. Dziekanski to the ground; this, after the 40-year-old Pole had already been zapped once with the Taser.

The Pritchard video proves Mr. Dziekanski was toppled by a Taser jolt. The officers grappled with him on the floor. He was zapped several more times.

But Mr. Butcher also warned that the video is flawed. Mr. Harris gave a similar assessment. Unlike a human, this "video witness" lacks depth perception, he said. The camera Mr. Pritchard used is not still; it moves from side to side and up and down.

Closing submissions continue today.

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