Taser use on Dziekanski 'inappropriate,' officers 'not credible': RCMP watchdog

James Keller
December 10, 2009
By James Keller
VANCOUVER - The use of an RCMP Taser against Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport was "inappropriate" and the explanations of the four officers involved weren't credible, says the force's independent watchdog.

VANCOUVER - The use of an RCMP Taser against Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport was "inappropriate'' and the explanations of the four officers involved weren't credible, says the force's independent watchdog.

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP released a harshly critical report Tuesday into what happened the night Dziekanski died in October 2007, criticizing nearly every aspect of the officers' response to the agitated man and their actions afterwards.

"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,'' chairman Paul Kennedy told reporters.

Kennedy said he was also aware of the testimony the officers gave at a B.C. public inquiry into the death.

"I've indicated to you that I have not found that credible. I don't attach any weight to it. 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,'' he said, referring to a witness's video of the last moments of Dziekanski's life.

That video differed wildly from the police account of the confrontation, sparking widespread public outrage.

The 208-page report makes 16 recommendations, including tighter regulations for Taser use.

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 them 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 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 should have taken control of the situation.

The officers told the public inquiry in B.C. that they fired because they felt threatened by Dziekanski, who was holding a stapler, but Kennedy said he didn't find any of the officers' statements credible.

The report recommendations 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.

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 the force's input.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliot wrote the commission, objecting to the report's release.

Elliot said the RCMP is waiting for the report from the sweeping B.C. public inquiry, due out early next year.

While he said he is not in a position to respond to the report, Elliot wrote: "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.''

He said the force has changed policies and training on the use of conducted energy weapons, emphasizing the risks and restricting use, and strengthened reporting requirements.

Kennedy said he deployed an independent observer the day after Dziekanski's death to monitor the investigation.

While he said there were issues with the investigation, he said there was no bias or partiality by the integrated investigative team that conducted the investigation.

Kennedy pointed out that he received more than 100 complaints from the public and various agencies about Dziekanski's death.

Crown prosecutors in B.C. decided not to charge any of the four officers, concluding their actions were justified under the circumstances. But their conduct has still been under intense scrutiny, particularly after their testimony at the public inquiry.

They were accused at the public inquiry of using too much force and then lying about what happened to justify their actions, particularly as apparent discrepancies emerged between the officers' initial accounts of what happened and the video.

The investigation into Dziekanski's death, by an integrated homicide unit that includes members of the RCMP, has also been criticized and the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother has suggested police didn't take the case seriously.

Kennedy said he had concerns with the investigation, but found no evidence of bias.

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.

Kennedy has already released reports critical of the RCMP's use of Tasers and released a report in August that concluded the RCMP shouldn't investigate itself in the most serious cases.

He has also argued his office doesn't have enough power to properly oversee the RCMP.

VANCOUVER - Key findings of the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP in the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport:

-(at) While they were in the lawful execution of their duties as police officers, the four officers failed to adopt a measured, co-ordinated and appropriate response to Mr. Dziekanski's reported behaviour.

-(at) The senior on-scene RCMP member failed to take charge of the RCMP's response.

-(at) No meaningful attempt was made to de-escalate the situation.

-(at) No warning - visual or otherwise - was given to Mr. Dziekanski prior to him being Tasered by the Conducted Energy Weapon (CEW).

-(at) Use of the CEW against Mr. Dziekanski was premature and inappropriate.

-(at) The CEW was used multiple times on Mr. Dziekanski without any significant effort made to determine the need for further use.

-(at) The RCMP members present should have more actively provided first aid and monitored Mr. Dziekanki's condition.

-(at) The four RCMP members inappropriately met alone after the death of Mr. Dziekanski-prior to giving their statements.

-(at) 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 the CPC.

-(at) The senior on-scene RCMP member should not have been present at the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) briefing held at the Richmond Detachment on October 14, 2007.

-(at) No bias or partiality toward the involved RCMP members was present in the IHIT investigation of the death of Mr. Dziekanski, but the Pritchard video should have been shown to the members before taking statements from them.

-(at) The RCMP should have released certain information to the media which would have served to clarify information pertaining to the death of Mr. Dziekanski and corrected erroneous information previously provided without compromising the IHIT investigation.

VANCOUVER - Recommendations of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP stemming from the death of Robert Dziekanski:

-(at) The RCMP should review the conducted energy weapon (CEW) quality assessment program as currently in effect and consider whether it should be enhanced to ensure that a high degree of confidence may be placed in the performance of in-service CEWs.

-(at) The RCMP should continue to be involved in and stay abreast of current independent research on the use and effects of the CEW.

-(at) Notwithstanding the fact that the RCMP has (as of January 2009) amended its policy such that the use of the CEW is to be used in response to a threat to officer or public safety as determined by a member's assessment of the totality of the circumstances being encountered, the RCMP should clarify for its members and the public what the appropriate circumstances for using the CEW are and what threat threshold will be utilized to assess the appropriateness of such use.

-(at) The RCMP should consider a review of its training to ensure that its members are well versed in the potentially dangerous nature of the weapon and to ensure that training provided to members assists them in appropriately assessing the circumstances in which deployment of the CEW is justified, bearing in mind the degree of pain inflicted on the subject during the CEW deployment and the potential outcome of such deployment.

-(at) The RCMP should consider designing and implementing training for its members in techniques to communicate with persons who cannot meaningfully communicate with them.

-(at) The RCMP should amend its CEW Usage Reporting Form, to require that information concerning a spark test be captured as part of the CEW usage reporting process (or include such requirement in the forthcoming Subject Behaviour/Officer Response data base).

-(at) The RCMP should edit its operational policy to emphasize the importance of the spark test and clearly indicate that the spark test is mandatory to confirm proper functioning of the CEW.

-(at) RCMP detachment familiarization procedures should include a detailed review of available medical facilities and equipment.

-(at) The RCMP should review its processes and criteria with respect to the initiation of an internal investigation into the conduct of its members to ensure consistency of application across the country.

-(at) I reiterate my recommendation from my report on the Police Investigating Police (August 2009) that all RCMP member investigations involving death, serious injury or sexual assault should be referred to an external police force or provincial criminal investigation body for investigation. There should be no RCMP involvement in the investigation. If, however, the RCMP continues to investigate such matters, then I recommend that the RCMP implement clear policy directives that all investigations in which death or serious bodily injury are involved and which involve RCMP members investigating other police officers will be considered criminal in nature until demonstrated not to be.

-(at) If the protocol of SRR (staff relations representative - akin to a union representative in the non-unionized police force) attendance is to continue, the RCMP should formalize the role of the SRR to provide clear policy and guidance to ensure that the SRR knows the bounds of his or her involvement and the required protocols with respect to such attendance, and that in all such cases the SRR not meet alone with a subject member in advance of being interviewed by an investigator.

-(at) I reiterate my recommendation in the Ian Bush decision (November 2007) that the RCMP develop a policy that dictates the requirement, timeliness and use of the duty to account that members are obliged to provide.

-(at) The RCMP should review its operational policies and procedures to ensure that, particularly in serious cases in which members investigate the actions of other members, processes are available to enable investigator awareness of the nature and depth of detail required during interviews.

-(at) The RCMP should take steps to ensure that members are aware of the importance of note taking, and that supervisors should be encouraged to regularly review the notes taken by their subordinates to ensure the quality of such documentation.

-(at) Given the proliferation of recording devices, it is anticipated that incidents in which RCMP members will seek to obtain private video or audio recordings will potentially occur more frequently in the future. Whether the police seize a video or audio recording of an event or obtain it on consent from a member of the public, the police must know and advise the public of the authority under which the video or audio recording is obtained. I recommend that the RCMP provide clarification for members with respect to obtaining video or audio recordings of an event.

-(at) I reiterate my recommendation in the Ian Bush decision that the RCMP develop a media and communications strategy specifically for police-involved shooting investigations that recognizes the need for regular, meaningful and timely updates to the media and to the public. In addition, the media and communications strategy should include a publicly available general investigative outline of the steps to be taken and the anticipated timeline for each step. I also expand my recommendation to cover all in-custody death investigations.

-(at) The RCMP should immediately conduct a review of its policies and training regimen to ensure that members are adequately trained with respect to recognizing the risks inherent in, and signs of, positional asphyxia and in taking steps to mitigate those risks.

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