VANCOUVER, B.C. – Robert Dziekanski’s mental state, a core issue at an inquiry into his death, got a fresh appraisal Thursday from a forensic psychiatrist who contradicted a colleague’s contention the Polish immigrant was delirious when police confronted him.
Dr. Paul Janke, who deals with mentally troubled youth in custody and testifies often in court cases, said there’s nothing in the video recording of Dziekanski’s final moments to suggest he was anything but a very angry, overly stressed-out traveller.
“He interacts with the people around him, is responsive to his environment, responds to directions and is acting in a way that in my mind rules out delirium but certainly indicates he was in a highly stressed and agitated state,” Janke told the Braidwood Commission.
Janke’s conclusions directly contradict those of Dr. Lu Shao-Hua, a psychiatrist and expert in delirium hired by homicide investigators who probed Dziekanski’s October 2007 death.
After reviewing the amateur video, police and witness statements and medical reports, Lu concluded Dziekanski was in a state of “agitated delirium” before he was shot several times with a Taser stun gun.
Lu’s report and inquiry testimony said the cause of Dziekanski’s delirium was unknown but suggest things such as alcohol and nicotine withdrawal, dehydration and exhaustion from lack of sleep could have been factors.
Lu said Dziekanski’s movements and interactions with people all suggested he was in a delirious state when four RCMP officers arrived to deal with an agitated man shouting and tossing chairs around Vancouver airport’s international arrivals area.
All four Mounties justified stunning Dziekanski with a Taser, then kneeling on his back to handcuff him because they said he did not respond to their commands and displayed aggression.
Dziekanski was stunned multiple times and died in handcuffs on the airport floor.
Janke’s eight-page review of Lu’s report and other evidence criticized Lu’s conclusions.
There’s simply not enough information in the 10-minute video to arrive at a diagnosis of delirium, he said. It requires a close assessment of the person over an extended period of time.
Hunger, fatigue, anxiety about the journey – Dziekanski had never flown before – and an inability for the unilingual Polish speaker to communicate all could have contributed to the agitation people saw, Janke said.
The medical evidence is also not conclusive about potential causes of delirium and Janke noted in his report the pathologist who conducted Dziekanski’s autopsy ruled it out.
Janke noted Dziekanski at one point lifted up a chair as if to throw it but stopped when a bystander yelled “No!”
Dziekanski also recognized police when they arrived but then reacted angrily when they cornered him against a counter.
A Mountie fired his Taser after Dziekanski grabbed a stapler. The officers testified they feared he would hit them with it.
“Given the material available to us, in my opinion diagnosis should be restricted to observations that he was agitated, distressed and anxious and no further conclusions can be drawn from a medial forensic psychiatric perspective,” Janke said in his report.
Helen Roberts, a federal lawyer acting for the RCMP, submitted a brief written rebuttal from Lu challenging Janke’s conclusions. He said Janke did not grasp the significance of Dziekanski hyperventilating and the level of dehydration an alleged drinker like Dziekanski could experience.
Janke conceded he does not see very many cases of delirium in his practice but defended his conclusion.
Lu employed “circular logic” to arrive at a diagnosis of delirium based on an assumption of severe dehydration, Janke said.
“If we don’t assume he’s got delirium then we need to address his state, then I stand by my opinion,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, has issued a letter thanking retired police psychologist Mike Webster for apologizing for what happened to her son.
Webster criticized the Mounties’ handling of Dziekanski when he testified at the inquiry and later wrote to Cisowski to express his regret.
“Nobody so far exposed the truth about RCMP as Dr. Webster did,” Cisowski wrote.
“They neither attempted to preserve or protect (the) life of my son.”
Dziekanski, 40, was immigrating to Canada to join his mother in Kamloops, B.C., when he died.
Cisowski’s supporters have organized a fundraising dinner on her behalf this weekend.