Thursday, June 24, 2010
Dziekanski death sparked an RCMP image "crisis"
Internal documents released by the RCMP reveal the "public relations crisis" the Mounties faced following the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport.
The documents, released by the force Wednesday after an access to information request, highlight negative reaction from media and members of the public following a report by former RCMP complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy last December.
In that report, Kennedy said the actions of the four officers involved in Dziekanski's death were "inappropriate" and their subsequent explanations not credible.
Following Kennedy's report, RCMP Insp. Tim Shields authored an internal document that said the force's lack of response and criticism of the complaints commissioner for releasing the report at all did not sit well with the public.
"The RCMP response to the media has resulted in a further magnification of the public relations crisis the RCMP currently faces in relation to the incident," Shields wrote.
"This was demonstrated not only by scathing headlines but also by emails sent from the public to the [RCMP] E Division website account, as well as comments from the public posted on media websites and talk radio."
The six-page internal document features an email from one member of the public who says while they are "normally a supporter of the RCMP," the force's conduct has left them "ashamed" and "embarrassed."
"I am sorry to say that the RCMP have lost my loyalty and support and now need to do a lot more to regain it," the email reads.
The internal document also features a number of media accounts that are critical of the force's response, or lack thereof, to Kennedy's report and to the Dziekanski case in general.
The RCMP also released photocopies Wednesday of a media communications workshop held for members of the force.
Among the slides is one titled: "Public image of police. Should we care?" The slide examines policing by consent and solving crimes with help from the public.
Another slide says RCMP media relations officers must admit mistakes. That line is the only one in the presentation capped with an exclamation point.
RCMP spokesmen handling the Dziekanski case admitted at a public inquiry into his death that they made mistakes when issuing information to members of the media and didn't immediately correct them.
A report from that public inquiry was released last week and found the four RCMP officers who confronted Dziekanski used too much force when they stunned him several times with a Taser and then lied about what happened.
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott held a lengthy news conference to discuss the matter hours after the report was released.
He said there have been many changes since Dziekanski's death, including policy shifts to ensure officers are warned there is a risk of death with conducted energy weapons such as Tasers and an emphasis on using the least amount of force necessary.
The report by former B.C. judge Thomas Braidwood prompted the B.C. government to appoint a special prosecutor to reconsider criminal charges against the four Mounties.
The province's Criminal Justice Branch said in December 2008 that the officers acted reasonably in the circumstances and wouldn't be charged.
Dziekanski's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit last year against the RCMP and others, but settled the case in April after receiving a public apology from the force and an undisclosed financial settlement.
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott acknowledged Friday that the force failed at many levels in the Robert Dziekanski case and said investigations of incidents involving Mounties will be turned over to B.C.'s civilian oversight body.
"It is clear that our policies and training in place at the time were deficient," Elliott said a few hours after the release of the final report from the inquiry into the death of Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in October 2007.
The Polish immigrant died after he was confronted by four RCMP officers responding to reports of an enraged man throwing furniture in the international arrivals area. The officers fired a Taser stun gun at him five times and then restrained him on the airport floor, where he died within minutes.
"This tragic case is, at its heart, a story of shameful conduct by a few officers," retired B.C. Court of Appeal judge Thomas Braidwood wrote in the report.
Elliot admitted that the officers did not do enough to help Dziekanski.
"We acknowledge that the actions of our members who dealt with Mr. Dziekanski also fell short," Elliott said. "Our officers did not take enough time to try and de-escalate the situation and did not provide an appropriate level of care to Mr. Dziekanski."
Elliott said there have been many changes in the aftermath of his death, including policy changes to ensure officers are warned there is a risk of death with conducted energy weapons such as Tasers and an emphasis on using the least amount of force necessary.
"We hope that the actions we have taken to date, including our apology and our settlement with Mrs. Cisowski [Dziekanski's mother], contribute to the healing process and to public trust in the RCMP," Elliott said.
"While nothing can bring back Mr. Dziekanski, it is our hope that our ongoing efforts will help prevent future tragedies from occurring."
The report follows an exhaustive inquiry that spent much of last year hearing from more than 90 witnesses.
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews did not commit to any of the recommendations right away. Toews issued a statement welcoming the report and said his government will take the time necessary for a careful review before commenting.
Dziekanski, who didn't speak English, arrived in Vancouver after a long flight from Poland and spent 10 hours in the airport before he eventually cleared customs. Unable to find his mother or communicate with anyone, Dziekanski began throwing furniture in the airport's international terminal.
Several onlookers called 911 and one witness started filming the scene on his video camera.
The four RCMP officers were told by a 911 operator to expect a drunk suspect. Within seconds of their arrival, one of them fired the Taser, pulling the trigger five times in total, mostly after Dziekanski had fallen to the ground.
Dziekanski's mother 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.
The 470-page report is entitled "Why? The Robert Dziekanski Tragedy," after the final word uttered by Dziekanski in Polish before he collapsed and died.
Final arguments began Monday at the public inquiry in Vancouver into the death of a man who was stunned several times by an RCMP Taser at the Vancouver airport almost two years ago.
The inquiry, led by retired justice Thomas Braidwood, is examining how Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski succumbed after being shot with an electronic stun gun five times by RCMP officers and left handcuffed face down on the floor of the arrivals lounge of the airport.
In his final submission to the inquiry Monday, the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother, Walter Kosteckyj, said the police failed to take the time to do their job properly. He said it took the RCMP officers less than 30 seconds after first meeting Dziekanski before they fired the Taser at him.
"The tasering of Mr. Dziekanski, at its best, would be characterized as premature, hurried and panicked response. And at the worst was a premeditated and planned attack," Kosteckyj said.
It was clear that Dziekanski went down, writhing in pain, after being hit by the stun gun just once. Using the weapon on the man repeatedly after that initial shot was stepping over the line, Kosteckyj said.
"The third, fourth and fifth deployments were gratuitous, unnecessary and were violent," the lawyer said.
Kostekyj also told the inquiry the RCMP in B.C. should be replaced with a provincial police force.
He said the RCMP already act as the provincial police force in B.C., but doesn't want to be held accountable to the provincial legislature.
The RCMP officers involved in Dziekanski's death, Const. Bill Bentley, Const. Gerry Rundel, Const. Kwesi Millington and Cpl. Benjamin Robinson, have already claimed the provincial inquiry has no jurisdiction over them, and Kosteckyj expects the federal government will make the same argument in its final submissions.
Final statements were expected to continue through Thursday.
The final report by commissioner Thomas Braidwood is expected early next year.
The final inquiry report on the death of Robert Dziekanski has concluded the RCMP were not justified in using a Taser against the Polish immigrant and that the officers later deliberately misrepresented their actions to investigators.
The long-awaited report, by retired B.C. Court of Appeal justice Thomas Braidwood, was released Friday in Vancouver.
Braidwood was commissioned by the B.C. government to investigate the actions of the four RCMP officers who confronted and subdued Dziekanski on Oct. 14, 2007, at Vancouver International Airport.
Braidwood said the four officers involved initially acted appropriately, but the senior corporal intervened in an inappropriately aggressive manner.
"I found that Mr. Dziekanski had been compliant and was not defiant or resistant, did not brandish the stapler, did not move towards any of the officers," he said.
"I concluded that the constable was not justified in deploying the weapon and that neither the constable nor the corporal honestly perceived that Mr. Dziekanski was intending to attack any of the officers," he said.
Braidwood concluded the officers later deliberately misrepresented what happened at the airport to justify their actions.
"I also concluded that the two other officers during their testimony before me offered patently unbelievable after-the-fact rationalizations of their notes and their statements" to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, Braidwood said.
"I found all four officers’ claims that they wrestled Mr. Dziekanski to the ground were deliberate misrepresentations made for the purpose of justifying their actions."
"I also disbelieved the four officers’ claims there was no discussion between or among them about the incident before being questioned by IHIT investigators, although I did not conclude that they colluded to fabricate a story."
"From this review I drew two final conclusions," he said. "Despite their training, the officers approached the incident as though responding to a barroom brawl and failed to shift gears when they realized that they were dealing with an obviously distraught traveller."
"This tragic case is at its heart a story of shameful conduct by a few officers. It ought not to reflect unfairly on the many thousands of RCMP and other police officers who have, through years of public service, protected our communities and earned a well-deserved reputation for doing so."
Braidwood said he would leave any further questions about possible charges against the officers for the Crown to decide.
In his conclusions, he called on the B.C. government to establish a civilian-led body to investigate similar police incidents in the future.
Braidwood also applauded improvements made by at the Vancouver International Airport since the Dziekanski's death, but criticized the Canada Border Services Agency for making only "minor and few" changes.
After the release of the report, B.C. Attorney General Mike de Jong said he was appointing a special independent prosecutor to re-examine the airport Taser incident in light of Braidwood's findings.
De Jong also said the government was accepting all of Braidwood's recommendations and moving immediately to set up a new civilian-led body to oversee investigations of police in B.C.
Dziekanski died after being stunned multiple times by RCMP officers using a Taser. The 40-year-old Polish immigrant, who spoke no English, had been wandering in the international arrival area for several hours, unable to communicate with anyone, while he waited for his mother to drive from the B.C. Interior to meet him.
He became distraught and angry, prompting airport staff to call police. Within 30 seconds of arriving at the lounge, the four RCMP officers surrounded him and knocked him to the ground with one Taser stun, then pulled the trigger four more times.
By the time medical help arrived, Dziekanski was dead.
Initially, police said Dziekanski had attacked the officers, but a digital camera video taken by a bystander raised questions about the RCMP account and became the key piece of evidence in the inquiry.
No officers were ever charged in the death and the RCMP defended the handling of the incident, saying Dziekanski was advancing at the officers when he was stunned with the Taser.
Before the report was released, Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, said she believed there was no doubt about the role the Mounties played in her son's death.
"That was torture. That was execution, because nobody help him. He shouldn't [have] died on the floor, but I see that," Cisowski told CBC News Thursday.
Braidwood also released a previous report last July that was critical of police guidelines on their use of Tasers and other conducted energy weapons.