Saturday, December 19, 2009

Commission for Public Complaints finds that RCMP officers acted inappropriately in the death of Robert Dziekanski and tasering of a 15-year-old girl

In two reports issued within the last month, the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP has found that RCMP officers acted inappropriately in relation to two taser incidents: the death of Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver and the tasering of a 15-year-old girl.

Following an investigation that has lasted over two years, the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP has made a finding that 4 RCMP officers used their Tasers prematurely and inappropriately in dealing with Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport. See the Report.

On October 14, 2007, Dziekanski was fired upon five times with a Taser weapon, within 24 seconds of four RCMP officers arriving at the scene. He died minutes later on the floor amidst shocked onlookers. The incident has marred the RCMP ever since, especially with the release of a video shot by one of those onlookers which severely discredited the officer’s claims of Dziekanski’s combative nature. It is disheartening to think of the vastly different conclusions that may have been reached regarding the incident had it not been filmed.

Commissioner Paul Kennedy, whose contract as Commissioner was coincidentally not renewed this past month, made harsh criticisms of the officers in his report. Kennedy chastised them for not making appropriate efforts to defuse the situation and stated that their conduct “fell short of that expected of members of the RCMP.” In total, the Commission made 23 findings and 16 recommendations. One of these findings, that accentuates the need for more stringent accountability measures for police, concerned the “considerable and significant discrepancies in the detail and accuracy of the recollection of the event.” Kennedy recommended that the RCMP conduct a broad review of the effectiveness of a previous quality assessment of Tasers.

Some of the key findings were as follows:

— While they were in the lawful execution of their duties as police officers, the four officers failed to adopt a measured, coordinated and appropriate response to Mr. Dziekanski’s reported behaviour.
— The senior on-scene RCMP member failed to take charge of the RCMP’s response;
— No meaningful attempt was made to de-escalate the situation;
— No warning - visual or otherwise - was given to Mr. Dziekanski prior to him being Tasered by the Conducted Energy Weapon (CEW);
— Use of the CEW against Mr. Dziekanski was premature and inappropriate;
— The CEW was used multiple times on Mr. Dziekanski without any significant effort made to determine the need for further use;
— The RCMP members present should have more actively provided first aid and monitored Mr. Dziekanki’s condition;
— The four RCMP members inappropriately met alone after the death of Mr. Dziekanski prior to giving their statements;
— 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;
— 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;
— 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;
— 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.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliot responded to the report by writing that the RCMP have taken “concrete action in relation to the death of Mr. Dziekanski and the events leading up to and following that terrible event." This includes changing the RCMP’s policies and training in relation to use of Tasers. For more on the Dziekanski case and recommendations concerning the use of tasers, see the Braidwood Report.

As noted above, following the release of this report, the RCMP Public Complaints Commission expressed grave concerns in a second case involving the tasering of a 15-year-old girl being held in a detention centre. Read the Report. The girl was lying face down, hand-cuffed and in the control of three guards.

It is troubling that the Harper Government has decided not to renew the contract of Kennedy. The decision was severely criticized in a Globe and Mail editorial "The Thin Line of Oversight". See also, Mason, "A Disturbing View of RCMP Oversight."

These incidents serve a stark reminder that improving police accountability and training is an issue that should remain at the forefront of justice reform. A senseless tragedy such as the one that occurred in the Dziekanski case should not be needed to trigger such actions but hopefully, in this case, that is exactly what it will do.

Posted by Martin Mendelzon (Law I)

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