B.C. inquiry into death of Polish immigrant finds police not justified in using Taser stun gun

By Jeremy Hainsworth, AP
Friday, June 18, 2010

B.C. inquiry: Police not justified in Taser death

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After the release of a scathing public inquiry report, the British Columbia government said Friday it will immediately appoint a special prosecutor to review the possibility of criminal charges against four police officers who used a stun gun on a Polish immigrant who died.

Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport after being shocked five times with a Taser stun gun by police in 2007 in an incident that was widely seen around the world after the release of a witness’ amateur video.

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

But British Columbia 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.”

Dziekanski, who spoke only Polish, apparently had become upset after waiting 10 hours at the airport for his mother. The four officers who responded to emergency calls about a man throwing furniture, used a stun gun to knock Dziekanski to the ground about 30 seconds after arriving on the scene. By the time medical help arrived, Dziekanski was dead.

Inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood said Friday the officers could not have, as they claimed, reasonably perceived Dziekanski was a threat when he picked up a stapler during their confrontation at the airport in October 2007.

Braidwood, who cannot make findings of criminal responsibility, was commissioned by the British Columbia government to determine whether there was misconduct on the part of the officers.

He would not comment on whether there was misconduct, but said the officers’ responded to the event as if it were a barroom brawl.

“This tragic case is, at its heart, a story of shameful conduct by a few officers,” Braidwood said.

Braidwood said some of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reports on the incident were “factually inaccurate, but not intentionally misleading”.

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.

But the death and a witness’ video of Dziekanski’s final moments, “shocked and repulsed people around the world,” the report said.

De Jong said a special prosecutor will be appointed immediately in light of these findings.

“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.

The inquiry report made eight recommendations, including setting up an independent body to investigate complaints of police misconduct in British Columbia.

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

Dziekanski’s mother Sofia Cisowski 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.

Cisowksi dabbed tears from her eyes Friday when Braidwood was asked why his report was entitled “Why?” Braidwood said he was referring to a translation of Dziekanski’s last words, captured from the video.

“Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Did you become stupid? … Have you gone insane. Why?,” Braidwood read.

“I will always think of my son and the manner of his death,” said Cisowksi.

She said she was satisfied with Braidwood’s latest report.

Braidwood released a report last summer from another set of hearings about Taser use in general by law enforcement agencies in British Columbia. That report concluded that stun guns can kill and their use should be restricted, but they are a necessary tool for police.

Since then, the force has amended its policy regarding use of stun guns.

Braidwood’s initial findings are now the subject of a court challenge by Taser International, the company that makes the brand of stun guns used by the police in British Columbia. The court challenge is scheduled to be heard in the province’s Supreme Court next month.

The provincial government has spent about 5 million Canadian dollars ($4.9 million) on the two-part inquiry, which was ordered amid public outrage that followed Dziekanski’s death and the release of the amateur video of the police confrontation.

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