VANCOUVER - The first of four RCMP officers involved in the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after he was stunned with a Taser at Vancouver's airport, stands trial beginning Monday on charges of perjury related to a public inquiry into the case.
Const. Bill Bentley was among four officers who confronted Dziekanski in October 2007, stunning him multiple times with a Taser within seconds of arriving to a call about a man throwing furniture. Dziekanski died on the airport floor.
The fatal confrontation fuelled a national debate about the safety of Tasers, prompting a public inquiry in B.C. that forced Bentley and the other three officers to account for why they used so much force so quickly on a man who, on an amateur video of the incident, appeared calm when police arrived.
Commissioner Thomas Braidwood's final report concluded the officers used too much force and had no justification for using the Taser.
The report prompted the province to appoint a special prosecutor to review the case. In May 2011, the prosecutor approved perjury charges against Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington, Const. Gerry Rundell and Cpl. Benjamin Robinson.
The officers all pleaded not guilty and none of the allegations have been proven in court. Bentley's lawyer, David Butcher, said at the time the charges were approved that there was "no substance to the allegations at all."
Butcher did not respond to a request for comment ahead of Bentley's trial. A receptionist at Butcher's law firm directed calls about the case to his colleague, Peter Wilson, who also did not respond.
Bentley, who started working as an RCMP officer since the spring of 2006, is the first to stand trial. Separate trials are scheduled for the others this coming November and February of next year.
Dziekanski arrived in Vancouver on Oct. 13, 2007, as he moved to Canada to live with his mother in Kamloops, B.C. He was in the airport for nearly 10 hours, unable to communicate with anyone because he did not speak English.
In the early morning of Oct. 14, Dziekanski became distraught and began throwing furniture. Several bystanders called 911.
The four officers arrived several minutes later and immediately approached Dziekanski.
In the video, Bentley can be seen hopping over a railing and walking through a sliding security door as he and the other officers approached Dziekanski, who stood with his hands by his sides.
Within seconds, the officers surrounded Dziekanski and one of them fired his Taser multiple times, causing Dziekanski to scream and writhe on the floor.
The video, captured by a traveller at the airport, was played countless times at the inquiry, with Bentley and the other officers narrating the clip with their versions of what happened.
Bentley testified that, based on the 911 call and Dziekanski's appearance, he approached Dziekanski prepared for a possible fight.
He said at first Dziekanski was calm, but then he became "unco-operative" when he threw his hands up and walked away.
Bentley testified Dziekanski picked up a stapler, turned toward the officers and swung it in their direction, with the stapler coming within a foot of him.
The video does not show Dziekanski swinging the stapler, but his back is to the camera — a limitation the officers' lawyers focused on during the inquiry.
Bentley was also confronted at the inquiry with his own notes from that night and his subsequent statement to homicide investigators.
He included the following account in his notes: "Subject grabbed stapler and came at members screaming."
At the inquiry, Bentley conceded the note was wrong, but said he was confused about a fast-moving situation. He later insisted the note was "somewhat accurate" because Dziekanski did start screaming once he was stunned with the Taser.
"If we didn't have a video of this matter, would you be here today telling us that the subject grabbed a stapler and came at the members screaming? Would that be your evidence?" asked commission lawyer Patrick McGowan.
"I don't know," replied Bentley.
Several lawyers at the inquiry, including a lawyer for Dziekanski's mother and a lawyer representing the Polish government, accused Bentley and the other officers outright lying — an accusation they all denied.
In the end, the commissioner did not believe Bentley's testimony about why Dziekanski was stunned with a Taser.
Braidwood alleged Bentley's attempts to explain his inaccurate police notes were "after-the-fact rationalizations" that were "patently unbelievable," and he contended Bentley's notes and his statements to homicide investigators contained "deliberate misrepresentations made for the purpose of justifying" his actions.
Braidwood also alleged Bentley displayed a "willingness to repeatedly misrepresent what happened at the airport for self-serving purposes," including at the inquiry.
Braidwood was appointed to investigate the circumstances of Dziekanski's death and make recommendations to prevent something similar from happening in the future. He could not assign legal blame.
Under cross-examination by his own lawyer, Bentley was asked if he had anything to say to Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, who was in the hearing room.
"That I'm sorry for her loss and that my heart goes out to her and her family," replied Bentley.
Cisowski later told reporters she did not accept the apology.
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