Video of Vancouver Taser incident shows police zapping man within seconds

The Canadian Press | November 14, 2007
Stephanie Levitz

VANCOUVER – Animalistic cries of pain are the last the world hears of a newly-arrived immigrant in dramatic video released Wednesday.

The images are so explosive Robert Dziekanski’s mother, who hasn’t seen the whole video, has been driven into seclusion to avoid seeing it repeated on newscasts, her lawyer told The Canadian Press.

But they also raise serious questions about why the police resorted to using the Taser only seconds after encountering the non-violent man last month at the Vancouver airport.

And it contradicts what police said happened that night.

Zofia Cisowski sits on a waiting list for psychiatric care to help her get through the loss of her only son, Walter Kosteckyj said, and so he hopes the gripping video holds the police accountable for their actions that night.

“People need to know the circumstances under which they seem to be willing to use (Tasers),” Kosteckyj said.

“I think it’s a judgment for the Canadian people and it’s fair for people to understand and see how these things are dealt with on a day-to-day basis.”

The bystander’s camera clicks on early in the morning of Oct. 14 as the 40-year-old Dziekanski appears to be attempting to barricade himself inside a secure area of the airport’s arrivals terminal.

No one yet knows why Dziekanski spent 10 hours in that secure area already, having arrived via Frankfurt earlier the day before.

Police were trying to find other people who had been on his flight as part of their investigation.

In the video, a tall and swarthy Dziekanski lines up desk chairs, a small wooden table and a clipboard along the doors separating the secure zone from the public waiting area.

The doors wave open and shut as he builds his barricade.

People gathered in the arrivals hall look on and Dziekanski glances furtively over his shoulder. His blue-and beige-striped shirt is open at the collar and appears wet with sweat.

He steps outside the doors, wielding the table in front of him, fear apparent in his eyes. He is muttering in Polish – the crowd thinks it’s Russian – and some try to soothe him.

“There’s nothing wrong, it’s OK,” one man says. A woman approaches, holds out her hand and beckons.

But he turns away and goes back inside, ignoring the woman now trying to speak with him through the glass.

Kosteckyj says of the segment of video that Cisowki has seen, it is this section that most breaks her heart.

“She saw her son, at the beginning, looking for help. She thought that maybe he was trying to write a message, he was looking for help and he was frightened,” he said.

“He, in her mind, was trying to get help and he ended up dying as a result of seeking that help.”

The woman eventually turned away from Dziekanski and chaos begins.

“He’s freaking out,” a bystander yells on the video as Dziekanski heaves a computer onto the floor.

The wooden table shatters against the glass. He picks up the computer a second time.

“Sir, sir, put it down,” someone yells. Dziekanski stops.

Security approaches the doors, and Dziekanski, chest heaving, mops his face with the sleeve of his dirty white jacket.

He stands waiting, fear evident in his eyes, but calm.

“He’s so scared,” a woman can be heard saying. “Just leave him.”

Security officers turn their backs and talk to each other, and in the background what sounds like airport officials discuss what to do next.

A Cathay Pacific flight with 300 people aboard is due shortly and someone can be heard suggesting customs officials hold passengers back.

Four RCMP officers arrive, the camera panning from the frustrated looks on security guards’ faces to the men in uniform striding through the hall.

Loud cries of what sound like “polizia,” can be heard as the officers are told by someone that the man is behind the door and only speaks Russian.

They vault over a railing and walk Dziekanski behind the glass doors. He gestures at his luggage as they appear to be talking to him.

He throws up his hands in the air and walks away.

The officers follow, apparently indicating he should put his hands on the counter of an information desk behind the glass.

Dziekanski stands with his back to the counter and the officers fan around him.

Crack – the sound of the 50,000 volts of electricity zapping from an officer’s gun can be heard.

Dziekanski winces and starts screaming, his hand waving a stapler madly in the air.

He grabs at his chest and lunges through a doorway, howling.

Crack – a second shot, electricity sizzles, and Dziekanski writhes on the ground, spinning in circles.

Police surround him again, the bystanders gasp in amazement. A voice can be heard yelling “hit him again, hit him again.”

The four officers clamber on top of him, restraining his arms, his head.

Dziekanski twitches as they fight to restrain him.

Finally, he is still.

Though the video doesn’t show it, paramedics were called to the scene. Dziekanski died there.

“Our officers would like to comment, but there is an ongoing investigation,” said Cpl. Dale Carr, a spokesman for the Integrated Homicide Team leading the investigation into the incident.

A coroner’s inquest has been called into what happened at the airport that night and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has also launched their own investigation.

Carr said the four officers involved in the incident that night will testify.

“That’s the venue where they will be scrutinized,” he said.

“This video is one small piece of evidence. We are not making a case based on one piece of evidence.”

An official at the Vancouver Airport Authority said he was troubled by the events shown in the video. “I’m saddened, it was hard to watch,” said Paul Levy, vice-president of airport operations.

“I can’t imagine how Mr. Dziekanski’s family must be feeling (after) what they’ve gone through over the past month and also having to watch that video. It’s extremely difficult.”

Levy said the actions of security guards prior to the arrival of police will be examined along with other evidence in an internal review and at the coroner’s inquest.

“We’re making sure we look at all procedures, training that we provide (and the) people that provide services here,” he said. “Obviously we want to learn as much as we can . . . and avoid anything as tragic as this ever happening at this airport again.”

When news first broke about the incident at the airport, police said the man they encountered was out of control.

Though agitated, in the video, Dziekanski responds to bystanders and security by putting down furniture or calmly standing still.

Police also said even after he was zapped once, he remained combative.

But the video shows that after the first shot, Dziekanski fell to the ground and was writhing in agony.

On the continuum of force used by police officers in confronting an individual, the Taser is supposed to come right before lethal force, according to a recent interview with the chair of the complaints commission.

Procedure dictates other steps like physical restraint, use of the baton and pepper spray are supposed to come first.

None of that happened.

“The officers clearly observed something that caused them to intervene in the manner they did,” Carr said Wednesday.

From the time the officers encounter Dziekanski to the first Taser shot, 30 seconds elapses.

Police earlier said the spray was not an option because of the people in the area – but Dziekanski and police were behind glass doors in an apparently empty section of the airport.

The RCMP investigation is expected to last between one and six more weeks.

No date has been set for the coroner’s inquest. Dziekanski’s precise cause of death hasn’t been made public.

A public funeral is scheduled to be held in his mother’s hometown of Kamloops, B.C., on Saturday.

B.C. Solicitor General John Les said the video was difficult to watch but he’s not prepared to change his mind about the use of Tasers by police.

“There is a positive aspect to the use of Tasers as well, and that it is not as necessarily lethal as a service revolver would be,” he said.

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