Brian Hutchinson, Vancouver, B.C. (National Post) – Was Robert Dziekanski being “unco-operative” when he stepped away from four RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport, or was he obeying a command?
It has become a key question at the inquiry examining circumstances that led to the Polish traveller’s death.
RCMP officers who testified this week before inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood both claimed Mr. Dziekanski demonstrated resistance when, after being confronted at the airport’s secured international arrivals area in October, 2007, he turned and moved toward a counter.
At the inquiry yesterday, a frame-by-frame dissection of contemporaneous video footage threw doubt on this interpretation. A lawyer acting for the Government of Poland brought Constable Bill Bentley back to the event.
“I am going to suggest to you that Mr. Dziekanski was ordered to the counter, by way of sign language,” said Don Rosenbloom. “Do you recall that?”
“No,” said Const. Bentley, in his second day of testimony. He testified earlier that Mr. Dziekanski seemed “calm” when Const. Bentley and three other RCMP officers approached him at the airport after complaints about the traveller’s behaviour. The situation seemed to present “no urgency at the time,” the constable said.
But, he testified, Mr. Dziekanski quickly became “unco-operative” and moved to the counter. He grabbed a stapler, which the officers considered a weapon.
“And when his behaviour escalated to combative, we responded with the appropriate intervention,” the constable testified.
Mr. Dziekanksi was jolted five times with a Taser, deployed by another RCMP officer. He was wrestled with on the ground; his face turned blue, his heart stopped and he died, the inquiry has heard.
Mr. Rosenbloom reviewed for the inquiry the video footage recorded at the scene by passerby Paul Pritchard. Run at slow speed, the video shows one of the four RCMP officers directing Mr. Dziekanski away from the spot where they were all gathered, and in the direction of a counter inside the secured area.
Identified yesterday as Corporal Benjamin Monty Robinson, the officer had his arm extended. He pointed a gloved index finger.
Mr. Dziekanski is seen throwing his hands up in air, as if in resignation, and walking in the direction as commanded. The four officers then surrounded him.
Const. Bentley’s reading of the events: “I interpret [Robinson] as giving him an order. For using body language or pointing to direct him somewhere.”
“Precisely,” said Mr. Rosenbloom. “He’s giving him an order. And the order is for him to move to the counter. Do you not agree?”
Not quite: “I perceive it as him ordering him over to the counter, after he’s thrown up his arms and walked away from us… [But] I’m uncertain whether he’s complied with that order because his behaviour to me changed before Cpl. Robinson directed his arm to the counter,” Const. Bentley said. “So, from what I’m seeing, Cpl. Robinson is reacting to Dziekanski’s behaviour.”
On it went: Mr. Rosenbloom proposed what seemed obvious; Const. Bentley demurred or deflected. He would not admit that Mr. Dziekanski had correctly complied with the order to move to the counter.
On which sat the stapler. No one had directed Mr. Dziekanski to pick that up, of course. His bad decision was fatal.
But why had Const. Bentley claimed in his initial police statement that, at the moment of first contact with the RCMP, “right away [Mr. Dziekanski] started backing up, looking for something to grab. He uses an object and putting that in front of him he kind of swung it at us.”
He conceded that he had not “articulated it the best.” He hadn’t meant to mislead police homicide investigators in explaining the RCMP’s role in the Dziekanski incident.
“Is that was this was about?” asked Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer representing Mr. Dziekanski’s mother. “That you were making sure you were justified in using force, when you were telling this story?
“There was no cover-up, if that’s what you’re getting at,” countered Const. Bentley. “I was just being honest and truthful.”
The inquiry resumes on Monday, with more RCMP testimony.