Monday, December 15, 2008

No charges levelled at Taser cops

The four Richmond Mounties involved in the Tasering of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski will not be charged with criminal wrongdoing.

Crown prosecutors with the B.C. Criminal Justice branch Friday confirmed there was not enough evidence to sustain criminal charges against any of the former Richmond RCMP officers involved in the incident at Vancouver International Airport more than a year ago.

The officers involved in the incident are identified as Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson, Const. Kwesi Millington, Const. Bill Bentley and Const. Gerry Rundel.

Stan Lowe of the Crown prosecutor's office revealed Dziekanski had been shocked five times, not twice, as originally reported by RCMP.

In the days immediately following the incident, an eyewitness contradicted the RCMP's version of events, saying she thought she heard four charges go off.

Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer representing Dziekanski's mother, Zophia Cisowski, said his client had been devastated to learn the four Mounties involved would not be charged.

"We knew that he had been Tasered at least twice," Kosteckyj said. "(Friday) we find out that the woman that was at the airport was accurate when she said he was Tasered on multiple occasions.

"The question that Zophia had for the prosecutor is: 'How can you tell me that my son -- who can't speak the language, and was lost and in distress and needed help -- was besotted upon by four Mounties, Tasered five times, jumped upon and restrained to the point where his heart gave out, that that is not excessive force?' And if that isn't, what is?"

He added that the threshold for criminal charges are high, and suggested the officers may not be off the hook yet, as they still face the possibility of a civil suit, not to mention a provincial inquiry and coroner's inquest.

Dziekanski, 40, had arrived at YVR on Oct. 14, 2007 after a 21-hour flight, and spent nine hours wandering lost at the airport. He appeared to be given little direction or assistance from airport staff.

Police who travelled to Poland later learned Dziekanski had been emotionally distraught even before he left, and was so terrified of flying that he had missed one plane because he refused to get on it.

It was only after Dziekanski began acting violently in a secure area of the airport -- throwing things like a computer terminal -- did anyone appear to take note and call security.

Within seconds of arriving on the scene, RCMP shot him with a Taser, discharging the gun five times -- three times in probe mode and twice in push-stun mode. He died shortly thereafter.

But it wasn't the Tasering alone that caused his death, according to the Crown.

Pathologists concluded heart disease caused by chronic alcoholism and the 'stress of physical restraint worsened by the deployment of the Taser" may have all caused his heart to stop.

"Since this incident, the RCMP has made a number of changes to its conducted energy weapon policies, training, practices and reporting requirements," RCMP acting commissioner Al MacIntyre said at a press conference Friday.

But when asked if, given the same circumstances, a similar incident could occur, RCMP officials confirmed it could, saying the four officers behaved according to proper RCMP policy.

"Based on the investigation information before me, I don't see a policy breach," said Supt. Wayne Rideout, who was in charge of the investigation by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT).

Video shot by Paul Pritchard shows Dziekanski, when confronted by police, to be backing up and putting his hands in the air in a demonstration of compliance when he was shot by one of the officers with a Taser.

RCMP said the video does not tell the whole story. IHIT investigators interviewed 10 witnesses, the four police officers, Canada Border Services Agency staff and viewed surveillance video. Given what the officers had been told before they arrived, and given what they saw when they arrived, they were entirely within their right to use the Taser, RCMP brass said.

As they made their way to the area where Dziekanski was throwing a fit, officers were getting constant updates from their dispatcher, who was relaying information about a man who was throwing things around and in a state of emotional distress.

After Dziekanski put his hands up, officers saw him pick up something. It turned out to be a stapler.

MacIntyre said police officers often don't know what they are walking into when confronting someone who appears to be emotionally unstable. "They routinely face situations most would run from," he said. "As police officers they never know what to expect."