VANCOUVER — The federal watchdog over the RCMP has passed judgment on allegations that have haunted the Mounties since Robert Dziekanski’s death: officers acted inappropriately when they repeatedly shocked him with a Taser and their versions of events simply aren’t credible.
Paul Kennedy, who chairs the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said Tuesday that although he had access to the four officers’ notes and to their testimony before a public inquiry, he found that evidence unreliable.
Instead, Kennedy relied on an amateur video of the incident, which has become the central piece of evidence in the investigations and debates that followed the fatal confrontation two years ago.
“The versions of events given to investigators by the four RCMP officers involved in the Vancouver International Airport in-custody death of Robert Dziekanski are not deemed credible by my commission,” Kennedy told reporters.
“They gave their explanations at the time in their notes and so on, and what I’ve chosen to do in my analysis is to look at the Pritchard video.”
Kennedy’s scathing report criticizes nearly everything the officers did at Vancouver’s airport on Oct. 14, 2007, and chastises the force overall for inadequate training and an unwillingness to heed commission recommendations.
The 208-page report is the latest blow to the RCMP in a case that has fuelled public outrage from the beginning, and it may not be the last, as the final report from a public inquiry in British Columbia is yet to come.
Canada’s national police force has long defended the actions of the four officers, who have not been charged or faced any formal discipline for what happened.
But Kennedy said their repeated use of a Taser was wrong and their explanations unconvincing.
“Use of the conducted energy weapon (Taser) against Mr. Dziekanski was premature and inappropriate,” Kennedy, who leaves his position as commission chair at the end of the month, told reporters in Vancouver.
The officers were called to the airport after Dziekanski, who didn’t speak English and had arrived from Poland nearly 10 hours earlier, started throwing furniture in the international arrivals area.
Within seconds, one of the officers stunned the Polish immigrant with a Taser and then fired the weapon four more times.
“I found the conduct of the responding members fell short of that expected of members of the RCMP,” says the report.
“Deployment of the CEW (Taser) by Const. (Kwesi) Millington was premature and was not appropriate in the circumstances.”
The officers told investigators and the B.C. public inquiry that when Dziekanski picked up a stapler, he posed a threat to them and members of the public who were watching the drama unfold. When he was on the ground writhing in pain, the officers said, he appeared to be fighting back and needed to be stunned again.
The report said the officers made no meaningful attempt to de-escalate the situation or approach Dziekanski with a measured or appropriate response, and the officer in charge, Cpl. Benjamin (Monty) Robinson, should have taken control of the situation.
And it said that after Dziekanski was unconscious on the airport floor, Robinson failed to provide him adequate medical attention.
Kennedy raised concerns about the subsequent police investigation, but he pointed out that he found no evidence of bias.
The report contains 16 recommendations that largely focus on Taser use, RCMP investigations and training.
Kennedy repeated his earlier recommendations that the force tighten its Taser policies and create an independent body to investigate officers in serious cases, such as those involving a death.
He suggested the officers’ training was also partly to blame.
“If the trainers don’t have an appropriate appreciation as to the danger of this device (the Taser), we can have officers trained to use a device that is justified by the training but which I believe is not reasonable, proportionate or acceptable,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy’s recommendations aren’t binding on the RCMP or the federal government.
The commission’s reports often include a response from the RCMP, but in this case Kennedy’s findings were released without including a detailed reply from the force.
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott wrote the commission, objecting to the report’s release before the results from the sweeping public inquiry in B.C. are released early next year.
While he declined to respond to the contents of the report, he noted the force has changed policies and training related to Tasers to emphasize their risks and restrict their use.
“I would like to underscore that the RCMP has already taken concrete action in relation to a number of the issues, concerns and shortcomings identified in relation to the death of Mr. Dziekanski and the events leading up to and following that terrible event.”
But Kennedy dismissed Elliott’s concerns, and accused the force of stalling to implement changes that should be obvious by now.
“It has not impressed me at all — there are issues we’ve identified, there is no excuse for delay,” he said, noting he has released several reports into Taser use and investigations involving police.
“They’ve been dealing with (the Dziekanski case) for two years. They know the facts. This report could have been responded to very quickly. It wasn’t.”
Kennedy accused the RCMP of trying to control the release of the commission’s reports.
Dziekanski’s mother said she can’t understand how four officers could have all made the same mistakes.
“If one was bad, or made a bad decision, that is one,” said Zofia Cisowski. “But there was four of them. That makes me very sick.”
Walter Kosteckyj, Cisowski’s lawyer, said the RCMP needs to adopt Kennedy’s recommendations if it wants to repair its battered image.
“Right now, I don’t have a high expectation (that Kennedy’s recommendations will be adopted), because when the RCMP is dealing with it, it’s, ’We say nothing and do nothing and we’re going to wait,”’ said Kosteckyj.
“The RCMP is very important, we’ve got to have police officers that we trust and respect, and right now they’re losing that trust and respect.”
He has also argued his office doesn’t have enough power to properly oversee the RCMP.
Robinson is currently suspended with pay pending the outcome of criminal charges in an unrelated fatal car accident last year.
But while all of the officers involved in Dziekanski’s are still on the force, the report’s release is one of Kennedy’s final acts as the head of the commission. The federal government isn’t renewing his appointment when it expires at the end of the month.
(The Canadian Press, CFJC)