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Friday, June 18, 2010

B.C. to review charges against officers involved in Dziekanski death

June 18, 2010
By: The Canadian Press

The B.C. government will immediately appoint a special prosecutor to review the possibility of charges against four RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski's death, in light of a scathing public inquiry report.

Prosecutors had already ruled out charges against the four officers, saying their actions were justified under the circumstances.

But B.C. Attorney General Mike de Jong said the matter should be reviewed following the inquiry report released Friday that concluded that the officers were not justified in using their Taser, and that their explanations of the events that unfolded the night Dziekanski died were "patently unbelievable."

Contrary to their testimony at the inquiry, commissioner Thomas Braidwood said the officers could not have reasonably perceived Dziekanski was a threat when he picked up a stapler during the confrontation at Vancouver's airport in October 2007.

The report by the former B.C. judge is riddled with terms like "untrue," misleading," "misrepresented," and "overstated," to describe the testimony of the four RCMP officers involved.

"Mr. Dziekanski's death appears to have galvanized public antipathy for the (RCMP) and its members," Braidwood said in his report. "That is regrettable, because the most important weapon in the arsenal of the police is public support.

"This tragic case is, at its heart, a story of shameful conduct by a few officers."

De Jong said a special prosecutor will be appointed immediately.

"In the immediate aftermath of the release of the Braidwood commission report, and some of the information and material that presented itself during that report, it is in my view not just warranted but essential that a reconsideration of that decision take place," de Jong told reporters.

The attorney general said the commissioner had shared with him his concerns about the officers' testimony. A copy of the inquiry report has been sent to the Criminal Justice Branch.

"The special prosecutor will assess whether there is any additional evidence or grounds upon which to reconsider the earlier decision around criminal prosecution," de Jong said.

He said the province accepts all the recommendations in the report, and will create within the next 12 months a new civilian agency to investigate serious incidents involving police in B.C.

The inquiry report was also critical of border officials and airport authorities, but stopped short of concluding that Dziekanski's death was caused by the stun gun. Braidwood noted there is no consensus on the exact cause of death.

"We will never know, with absolute certainty, what caused Mr. Dziekanski's death," says the report.

But the death and a witness video of his final moments, "shocked and repulsed people around the world," says the report.

Braidwood addressed Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, directly.

"I can only say to you that I hope these findings and recommendations will give some feeling of satisfaction at least in a small way, arising out of these things, particularly in light of the ordeal you have suffered," he said.

Cisowski thanked the commissioner, saying the report did give her some relief.

"I just cannot even talk today," she told reporters.

The inquiry report makes eight recommendations, including an independent body to investigate police in B.C.

The report follows an exhaustive public inquiry that spent much of last year hearing from more than 90 witnesses about what happened the night Dziekanski died.

Dziekanski, who didn't speak English, arrived in Vancouver after a long flight from Poland and spent 10 hours in the airport before he eventually cleared customs.

Unable to find his mother or communicate with anyone around him, Dziekanski began throwing furniture in the airport's international terminal. Several onlookers called 911 and one witness started filming the scene on his video camera.

The four RCMP officers were told by a 911 operator to expect a drunk man throwing furniture. Within seconds of approaching Dziekanski, one of them fired the Taser, pulling the trigger five times in total, mostly after Dziekanski had fallen to the ground.

Last December, the RCMP complaints commissioner released his own report that found the officers' use of the Taser was "inappropriate" and their explanations to justify their actions weren't credible.

Dziekanski's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit last year against the RCMP and others, but settled the case this past April after receiving a public apology from the force and an undisclosed financial settlement.

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