Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saskatoon StarPhoenix columnist blames victim; supports RCMP actions in brutal Taser death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski

Robert Dziekanski shortly before being Tasered by RCMP

Images from video shot by Paul Pritchard, right

“There was no extreme emergency that caused them to move in that fast and take him into custody. They were able to get quite close to him and he wasn’t being aggressive towards them.”
– Donald Van Blaricom, former chief of the Bellevue police

“I don’t even think batons or mace would have been necessary, given that there were four officers on the scene.

[The police] appeared to take the path of least resistance by deploying the Taser . . . when they could have controlled this gentleman through physical-force techniques that would not have been harmful.”
– Michael Lyman, a criminal justice professor at Columbia College in Missouri

“[T]he RCMP team barged into the room after appearing to discuss and arrive at a prior decision to use the Taser. They surrounded Mr. Dziekanski at a distance safe to themselves, he offered no resistance, and they zapped him anyway.”
National Post, Editorial, Nov. 16, 2007

“At no point does Dziekanski appear to be a threat to others, who attempt to help him while they wait for airport security or the police.”
Vancouver Sun, Editorial, Nov. 15, 2007
According to StarPhoenix columnist Les MacPherson, it seems Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski had no one but himself to blame for his violent death at the hands of the RCMP on Oct. 14 at Vancouver International Airport.

“That the rough handling in this case ended in tragedy is not the fault of police,” MacPherson said.

Dziekanski, 40, who could not speak English, arrived at the airport on Oct. 13 where he spent an incredible 10 hours trying to locate his mother, Maria Cisowski, 61, of Kamloops, BC, and by 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 14 was unconscious but breathing after four RCMP officers arrived two minutes earlier and, within 30 seconds, Tasered him at least twice before pinning him to the floor until he lay motionless. A “Code Red” was called in and then the officers stood around and did nothing until paramedics arrived.

CTV British Columbia obtained an airport log that shows a four-minute lag between when Dziekanski lost consciousness and when B.C. ambulance crew members were called, and an almost 15-minute gap between the time he passed out after being tasered, and when the ambulance crew arrived on the scene. [No drugs, alcohol in man who died at airport (CTV News, Oct. 26, 2007)]

For Dziekanski it was his first ever flight.

Cisowski spent more than six hours in the nearby international arrivals lounge trying desperately to persuade anyone at the airport to help her make contact with her son. But nobody did.

Paul Pritchard, 25, of Victoria, BC, caught the disturbing incident on high-quality video.

In Man’s lack of co-operation necessitated force (StarPhoenix, Nov. 17, 2007) MacPherson states:
“What people seem not to realize is that there is no way to subdue a violent, irrational and potentially dangerous suspect that isn’t disturbing.”
Michael Lyman, a criminal justice professor at Columbia College in Missouri, said the decision by the police to subdue Dziekanski with a Taser was “inappropriate” because the four officers present should have been able to physically control him.

After watching the video of Dziekanski’s death, Lyman said the police should have been able to restrain the Polish immigrant using their hands.

“I don't even think batons or mace would have been necessary, given that there were four officers on the scene.”

Lyman said the police “appeared to take the path of least resistance by deploying the Taser . . . when they could have controlled this gentleman through physical-force techniques that would not have been harmful.”

An expert on police procedure who has provided testimony in hundreds of criminal and civil court cases, Lyman said there was no evidence in the video that Dziekanski possessed a dangerous weapon.

“He doesn’t appear to be threatening anybody. But he does appear to be uncooperative and unreasonable.”

Lyman was also concerned about the way one of the officers repeatedly struck what appeared to be a baton on the floor near the prostrate Dziekanski.

“Whether it hit him, I don't know. But I am concerned that he may have been struck with no justification.”

Donald Van Blaricom, former chief of the Bellevue police, said the officers should have made Dziekanski sit up as soon as possible after he was Tasered.

“He’s down on the floor for an awful long time, and it appears that they are holding him down when he is in handcuffs because he is struggling.”

Van Blaricom said the video appears to show a “vicious cycle” in which the more Dziekanski was restrained on the floor, the more he physically resisted, prompting the police to use even more physical force, until he stopped breathing.

“He’s being held face down on his chest and he responds by struggling because he can’t breathe.”

Van Blaricom said that the police don’t seem to realize that he is not breathing until it is too late, “but from a video like this it’s hard to really know what is going on.”

Van Blaricom said Taser-related deaths don’t stem from the electrical voltage carried by the weapon, but from the exhausting physical struggle that follows.

Often the cause of death is cardiac arrest, or asphyxia, when the person being arrested builds up so much lactic acid that he can’t breathe any longer, said Van Blaricom.

“They develop an oxygen deficit that they just can’t overcome.”

Nevertheless, Van Blaricom said the Taser was a reasonable option for the police, given that they couldn’t communicate with him because of the apparent language barrier.

Any attempt to control him physically was risky for the officers and for Dziekanski, he said.

“Once you take a person into custody, you want to do so with the least amount of struggle because physical struggle can lead to injury or death.”

Van Blaricom said people in such a heightened state of distress can often have what police describe as “super-human strength” and are very difficult to subdue physically.

When dealing with this kind of situation, said Van Blaricom, “it’s recommended that you have four or five officers.” When that’s not possible, “the Taser does that for you.”

Van Blaricom faulted the police for opting to use the Taser too quickly. “There was no extreme emergency that caused them to move in that fast and take him into custody,” he said.

“They were able to get quite close to him and he wasn't being aggressive towards them.” [Policing expert says Taser decision ‘inappropriate’ (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 14, 2007)]

In his column MacPherson states:
“What, exactly, would these armchair critics have had the police do?

“Talk to the guy?

“They tried. Police when they approached the man were as non-threatening as they could be. It didn’t work.”
The two individuals seen on Pritchard’s video speaking with Dziekanski just before RCMP arrived were not police. They were security guards.

According to Vancouver airport security system ‘stinks,’ says union (CBC News, Oct. 31, 2007) security at Vancouver International Airport is compromised by low wages and contracting out.

Security staff at the airport have close to a 100 per cent annual turnover rate because of low wages and a lack of job security, said [Ron] Fontaine, a representative of the Grand Lodge for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), and as a result security staff are often inexperienced.

Fontaine said just weeks after the union negotiated its first collective agreement with the Vancouver Airport Authority this past summer, the airport put the security contract out to tender.

“Two weeks from now the lowest bidder is going to get it. And that bidder is going to come and try to reduce the benefits, the wages and various things to agree to the contract they underbid,” said Fontaine.

When the RCMP finally did arrive “[p]eople in the lounge can be heard clearly telling the police Dziekanski speaks no English, only Russian. His mother later said he only spoke Polish.” [Taser video shows RCMP shocked immigrant within 25 seconds of their arrival (CBC News, Nov. 17, 2007)]

Yet, in Robert Dziekanski’s final seconds (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 15, 2007) it was reported that when RCMP first approached Dziekanski one of the officers asked “How are you doing, sir?”

In Taser answers (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 1, 2007) Pritchard, who shot the high-quality videos, told a packed Victoria press conference that the police officer who shocked Dziekanski planned to Taser the Polish immigrant before he even arrived on the scene.

“As they [three police officers] ran in, I heard one of the officers say, ‘Can I Taser him?’ or ‘Should I Taser him’ before they actually got to Mr. Dziekanski,” said Pritchard.

“As soon as they crossed through the doors, within five seconds they kind of flushed him behind the desk and right away they Tasered him,” Pritchard added.

Pritchard said that before anyone arrived, people at the scene called security at least twice, and two people left the area to try to find someone who could help. He said some women also tried to get a translator on an airport phone, but couldn’t because the phone was broken. (The Airport Authority would later dispute this saying the phone was working.)

MacPherson’s editorial colleagues at the Vancouver Sun and National Post are critical of both the RCMP and airport staff.

In Investigations into airport Taser death must ensure tragedies like this are not repeatedVancouver Sun, (Nov. 15, 2007) the Vancouver Sun editorial board state:
“The video confirms much of what Paul Pritchard, a bystander who shot the video after arriving from a trip to China, had claimed all along.

“An agitated Dziekanski is seen looking confused and at various times holding a chair in front of him or over his head. At one point he picks up what appears to be a computer keyboard, and throws it to the ground.

“At no point does Dziekanski appear to be a threat to others, who attempt to help him while they wait for airport security or the police.

“Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers finally arrive and surround Dziekanski, who does not appear to be acting in a threatening manner toward them either. Nevertheless, they quickly Taser Dziekanski, who falls to the ground, is descended upon by the officers and is apparently Tasered again.”
The editorial board further said:
“Dziekanski certainly didn’t seem to present an immediate threat to anyone, least of all the police, who appeared calm when they first surrounded him. But the police seemed possessed of a Taser first and ask questions later mentality, since Dziekanski was shocked before police had time to figure out why he was behaving the way he was.

“We need to know, then, whether RCMP officers are instructed to use their Tasers so quickly when no immediate danger is present, or whether these officers were acting against instructions.

“In fact, we need to ask whether the officers’ conduct, aside from the Tasering, was appropriate at all, since they seemed to do little to ascertain what the problem was before subduing the jetlagged traveller.

“But this is an issue that concerns not just the RCMP. It also concerns Vancouver International Airport staff, who probably could have settled this matter in the first place, thereby eliminating any need for police involvement.

“Specifically, we still don’t know why Dziekanski spent 10 hours in the airport before the tragic events unfolded. But we do know that after waiting some seven hours for her son, and after asking airport staff repeatedly for help in locating him, Zofia Cisowski was told that he was not in the airport. She and a friend then made the long drive back to her home in Kamloops where she received a message to come back to the airport.

“Clearly, had this mistake not been made -- had airport staff worked diligently to connect Dziekanski with his mother -- the police would never have become involved and this death would never have occurred.”
In Blame careless police procedure, abattoir-like airport design and sheer bad luck (National Post, Nov. 16, 2007) the National Post editorial board appear to concur:
“Every police force has written standards governing Taser use and proclaims respect for its hazards. But there is little evidence of such respect in Paul Pritchard’s camera-phone video of Mr. Dziekanski’s arrest.

“In that footage, police officers are seen to arrive and proceed directly to the detention room without asking witnesses about the man’s behaviour or demeanour or monitoring it themselves. Mr. Pritchard could have told them that he had already shown obvious signs of respiratory distress while putting furniture in the path of a self-closing door, perhaps in an effort to get himself more air. Taser International has promoted local police standards which recognize “excited delirium” as a “substantial contributor to deaths of people against whom law enforcement officers have employed” the devices. Yet the RCMP team barged into the room after appearing to discuss and arrive at a prior decision to use the Taser. They surrounded Mr. Dziekanski at a distance safe to themselves, he offered no resistance, and they zapped him anyway.

“The appearance of poor practice here is so strong that the RCMP may face a tough decision whether to defend their members’ actions or to deny that they are, in fact, routine operating procedure. But the debate over the Dziekanski incident should not end with an obsessive analysis of the weapon used against him. The conduct of federal officials in this case is baffling and infuriating. Somehow, despite his total lack of knowledge of English, Mr. Dziekanski was cleared to enter Canada at a Border Services inspection point before straying into baggage claim, within the secure area of the airport, and remaining in various places, unable to communicate with anyone, for 10 hours or more. His mother, who had driven from Kamloops, B.C., and anticipated no difficulty, waited all day to greet her son; she was refused any information about his status and whereabouts and eventually gave up.

“By the time Mr. Dziekanski began to destroy property and implore passersby for help in Polish, the immigration officials seem to have lost track of him entirely. And while an internal investigation by the airport authority quickly exonerated its staff from wrongdoing, one wonders whether it might have occurred to the security officers who summoned the RCMP that a lone, frightened man screaming in Polish might have been of some interest to Border Services or Immigration and Citizenship.

“Fatal accidents, from car crashes to bridge collapses, generally do not have just one cause. A series of things must go awry. The facts of the Dziekanski case point to some combination of security mania, careless police procedure, abattoir-like airport design and sheer bad luck.”
The following day the National Post reported that the four RCMP officers involved in the Taser death appear to have breached recommendations on how the weapon should be used.

Taser Not To Be Used Repeatedly (National Post, Nov. 17, 2007) notes:

“A 2005 report -- The Taser Technology Review Report -- by the B.C. Police Complaints Commissioner listed a number of key safety recommendations for the use of a Taser.

“However, a video of the death of Mr. Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14 suggests they were not followed.

“Chief among the recommendations were that Tasers should not be used against someone who is “passively resisting”; that police should not use the Taser multiple times; and that after a Taser shock, the subject should be restrained in a way that allows him to breathe easily.

“Officers, in dealing with the 40-year-old Polish man, do not appear to have followed the guidelines.

“The report suggests officers approach such a suspect according to a well-thought-out plan.

“Where individuals are contained in a room, officers should use the time to formulate a plan for entry and restraint that allows them to immediately turn the person over to ambulance personnel,” the report says.

“It goes on to emphasize such precautions are necessary, especially if the subject appears to be suffering from a state of excited delirium -- a condition that may be characterized by such behaviour as a person “running through traffic or otherwise placing themselves and others at risk and would have to be restrained in any event.”

“It is not known whether Mr. Dziekanski was suffering from excited delirium.

“The report states that multiple Taser shocks may have a detrimental effect on a person’s pH, carbon dioxide levels and lactate levels.

“Although multiple applications may be tactically required, particularly in remote areas where back-up is distant or unavailable, the risks associated should be included in an officer’s decision-making process,” the report says.

“The video shows Mr. Dziekanski being shocked at least twice.

“The report suggests that officers may jeopardize a suspect’s ability to breathe if a great deal of weight is placed on the shoulders and back for a long period of time.

“The video of Mr. Dziekanski’s death shows him screaming on the ground and being restrained by at least one officer who is over him.”

In his column MacPherson states:
“The suspect, after storming around the airport, smashing up furniture and alarming everyone around him, was now ignoring police instructions.”
On the contrary Dziekanski was not “storming around the airport.” He was in a highly-controlled, secure and restricted area. He was confused, scared, agitated and pacing back and forth. Tests done later showed he had no drugs or alcohol in his system.

The “furniture” he was “smashing” consisted of one small wooden folding table and a computer keyboard. That’s it.

As for “alarming everyone around him” Dziekanski was alone. The video clearly shows this. At one point a woman did approach and speak with Dziekanski but at no time did he threaten her.

When the two security guards appeared Dziekanski he made no threatening gestures toward them either.

Like MacPherson, it appears the RCMP can’t get their story straight.

In What the video shows, what RCMP says happened (National Post, Nov. 16, 2007) it is reported that the events on the video appear to conflict at times with the RCMP’s version of events immediately after the incident.

The article notes:

“Police said: In its original news release on the incident, the RCMP said three police officers were involved in the incident.

“The video shows: What appears to be four men wearing RCMP uniforms approaching Mr. Dziekanski.

“The video shows: Police are told by a bystander that Mr. Dziekanski doesn’t speak English. As he approaches Mr. Dziekanski, an officer asks him, “How are you doing, sir?” The concerns raised: Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, has said his review of the incident will look into whether or not the RCMP followed its own policies on dealing with people who can’t communicate in English, and whether those policies are adequate.

“Police said: The RCMP says the officers did not use pepper spray on Mr. Dziekanski because of the large number of people at the airport. The video shows: Several people are seen observing the incident from the airport’s public lounge. But Mr. Dziekanski and the officers appear to be entirely alone in the secure arrivals area, which is separated from everyone else by Plexiglass.”

In his column MacPherson states:
“For all anyone knew, the suspect was armed and potentially dangerous. Had he suddenly produced a weapon and killed an innocent bystander, say, the same people who today are condemning the officers for using excessive force would instead be condemning them for not using enough force.”
Dziekanski was at the airport for 10 hours. He successfully cleared two customs posts. By all accounts he threatened no one during that time.

MacPherson then appears to blame the victim:
“All the man had to do was co-operate and no one would have been hurt.”
Frankly, all airport staff and immigration officials had to do was help Dziekanski and his mother at some point during the 10 hour this ordeal and no one would have been hurt.

Furthermore, all the RCMP had to do was show some level of interest in assessing the situation, ask questions, use common sense, follow guidelines or find an interpreter and likely no one would have been hurt.

MacPherson then states:
“Why Dziekanski behaved as he did, we may never know. We’ve all found ourselves waiting at one time or another for someone who doesn’t show up, as he apparently was.”
Dziekanski’s mother did show up. She was in a nearby room. She waited more than five hours before being told her son wasn’t at the airport. She went home thinking he’d missed his flight.

Then MacPherson ridiculously says:
“By the time police were called to the scene, he had long since cleared immigration and was free to go. He could have sought out an interpreter. He could have caught a cab, found a hotel room and sorted it all out the next day.”
Dziekanski was a foreigner and did not speak English. This was his first ever flight. He didn’t leave because he was there to meet his mother who had sponsored his coming to Canada.

According to Video of Taser death stirs outrage (Toronto Star, Nov. 16, 2007) Dziekanski “had been told to wait for her and he did, for hours, not realizing she couldn’t get into the secure baggage area.”

In Questions hang over taser death (Globe and Mail, Oct. 26, 2007) it is reported that Dziekanski and his mother “had arranged to meet at the baggage carousel in the international terminal at YVR. What neither of them seemed to know, however, was that the baggage area is inside a secure area just past Canada Customs and Immigration. There is no line of sight into the Arrivals Hall from the public waiting area, except for a short distance through sliding glass doors.”

Dziekanski’s mother, the article notes, “spent nearly six hours pacing the corridors and, in broken English, asking airport officials for help in locating her son.”

Walter Kosteckyj, the mother’s lawyer, said “she visited one booth in international arrivals “at least three to four times and conveyed to them that she was concerned about her son being in the area and she wanted to get a message to him and how could she do that? They wrote her name down and said that they would make inquiries.”

At about 10 p.m., she was told he wasn’t there. She made the long drive home, only to find a phone message waiting, saying her son had been found.

“She called back to immigration when she got in, which would have been around 2 a.m., and spoke to someone there and was advised that her son was somewhere in the area and was fine. And she advised, you know, ‘Please take care of him because he can’t speak English and I’ll get there as soon as I can.’ And of course he had died, been killed really, some time on or about 1 or 1:30,” Mr. Kosteckyj said.

In Mother’s grief, anger overflows (Vancouver Sun, Oct. 26, 2007) Kosteckyi said “communications systems at the airport are dysfunctional, inadequate and staff don’t have the capacity to communicate between different areas of the airport or to page the public in secure area.”

In ‘His scream is brutal. You hear a man die’ (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 15, 2007) Kosteckyj said he was angry the video showed security guards at the airport were disinterested as the tragedy unfolded.

And he can’t understand why police made no attempt to defuse or control the situation before using the Taser.

In RCMP confident about Taser probe (Toronto Star, Nov. 17, 2007) Paul Levy, vice president of operations at the Vancouver airport, said a review is taking place that includes what language services should be provided. A language line is available at the airport that provides translations for up to 120 languages, but it’s unclear how non-English or non-French speakers are aware of the availability of the service.

Why did airport staff, immigration officials or the RCMP not find an interpreter for Mr. Dziekanski?

In a another article, Timeline ‘perplexes’ YVR chief (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 3, 2007) Airport president and chief executive Larry Berg said “no one from the airport authority had contact with Dziekanski during the entire period, adding that for the bulk of the time the Polish immigrant was in the airport he was in areas controlled by CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency].”

In a November 17, 2007, news release RCMP Commissioner William J. S. Elliott said “For the time being, the four RCMP officers directly involved in the events of October 14th, 2007, have been assigned to other duties. The RCMP has also undertaken an examination of our policies and procedure relating to conducted energy weapons, commonly called ‘Tasers’ and will be providing a report to the Minister of Public Safety. We will further consider our policies and procedures in light of the findings and recommendations flowing from the investigations currently under way,” he said. [Four ‘Taser incident’ officers reassigned (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 17, 2007)]

Is the RCMP solely to blame for this tragedy? No.

Does the RCMP deserve to be held responsible for some of what happened? Yes.

MacPherson owes the Dziekanski family a public apology.


At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn good post. Right now, the RCMP is calling it all 'misperception'.
The BC Liberals seem be launching a public inquiry, according to a Globe and Mail article.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Duslaz said...

An excellent post. I am outraged and horrified by the violent and brutal actions of the 4 RCMP officers which led to the death of this poor innocent man. I keep visualizing a pack of wolves swarming and jumping on their prey with nothing in mind but the intent to kill. They are sadistic and cold-blooded murderers. They need to be charged and go on trial for the murder of Robert Dziekanski was a tired, disraught man and absolutely of no threat to them. I am haunted by the horrific images of that video everyday. When are the RCMP going to be held accountable for their criminal actions or are they above the law because they are police? Canada condemns the torture and terror of the Russian KGB and the German Gestapo. What would you call the present day criminal activities of the RCMP???

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