RCMP followed training in shocking Dziekanski
VANCOUVER - Four Mounties dispatched to deal with Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport didn't speak a word to each other or ask any witnesses for information before they confronted the Polish man and stunned him several times with a Taser.
Const. Gerry Rundel told a public inquiry into Dziekanski's death on Tuesday that physical force is supposed to be a last resort.
Rundel said his RCMP training emphasized the importance of communication over force and the need to analyze a scene upon arriving.
But he said there simply wasn't enough time for any of that before Dziekanski was shocked at the airport in the early morning of Oct. 14, 2007.
"Time did not allow that," said Rundel, the first of the four officers to testify at the inquiry, revealing for the first time publicly the officers' take on what happened in the final moments of Dziekanski's life.
"Everything was happening very fast."
Rundel said that he, Const. Bill Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington and Cpl. Benjamin Robinson were on a dinner break at the RCMP's airport detachment when they received a call about a man throwing furniture at the airport.
He said none of the officers said anything to each other as they stood up, went to their police cruisers, drove to the airport and walked toward Dziekanski.
The supervising officer, Robinson, didn't assign tasks to any of his constables or discuss how they might respond, said Rundel.
He said a distressed woman approached and pointed out Dziekanski, and another shouted that the man didn't speak English, but that was the end of the officers' interaction with the public.
Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother, asked why none of the officers spoke to witnesses, tried to find out why Dziekanski was agitated or even looked at the man's luggage tags to find out where he was from.
"I'm just curious as to why one of you didn't gather some information?" said Kosteckyj. "Isn't that what we talked about with this integrated training and working in partnership and checking out the scene and all of that?"
"If the opportunity presented itself, that would have happened," replied Rundel.
When officers tried talking to Dziekanski in English, he reached towards his luggage but stopped when an officer shouted "No" and motioned him not to.
Dziekanski tossed his hands in the air and took a few steps away, before turning back towards the officers holding a stapler.
Rundel has said that by walking away, Dziekanski was being resistant and his training allowed the use of a Taser.
But Kosteckyj questioned Rundel's interpretation of the hand motion.
"In a lot of places in the world, a lot of people think that's the sign for surrender," said Kosteckyj. "Hands up in the air, flat out -- you didn't get the feeling that he was just stepping back because you were uncomfortable about him going to his bag?"
"Not at all," said Rundel. "He did not stand up, hands up and stand still."
Rundel, who had been on the force for two years at the time, repeatedly referred to his training throughout his testimony -- training that will be a central issue at the inquiry. Questions abound about the RCMP's use-of-force guidelines and training in the use of shock weapons.
In December, Crown prosecutors announced that the use of force was reasonable in the circumstances and that none of the officers would face criminal charges.
However, the inquiry's final report can still make findings of misconduct against the officers or anyone else involved.
Rundel said at the time, Tasers were considered safe and were on the lower end of the use-of-force guidelines, below pepper spray and batons.
Shortly after the incident, Rundel told investigators he thought Dziekanski might have been suffering from "excited delirium," a controversial term often associated with in-custody deaths. It has since been removed from RCMP training manuals after being repeatedly discredited in studies and coroners' investigations.
The RCMP has changed its policies since Dziekanski's death, noting the devices can kill and restricting their use to cases involving threats to officers or public safety.
It's not clear, however, how those changes would have altered what happened to Dziekanski.
Rundel has testified that he feared for his safety and believed Dziekanski posed a threat.