VANCOUVER, B.C. – After Robert Dziekanski was shocked with an RCMP Taser at Vancouver’s airport, an officer pinned him to the floor with a knee to his back, a witness told the public inquiry into the Polish man’s death.
Nick Le, a limo driver who was at the airport to pick up a passenger in the early morning of Oct. 14, 2007, said Tuesday that he happened upon the scene after Dziekanski was shocked.
Minutes earlier, the Polish man was confronted by four Mounties summoned because he’d started throwing furniture in the international arrivals area of the airport.
When Le arrived, he said he saw three of the officers hovering over Dziekanski. Two of them were holding Dziekanski’s hands, he said.
“What I saw is one of the officers use his knee right on top of the centre back of the man,” said Le. “And that is very dangerous.”
A lawyer for one of the officers, David Butcher, immediately objected to Le’s characterization, saying he should stick to his observations, not his opinion.
But Le said he has studied martial arts since he was four years old, and he felt the officer’s actions were dangerous.
Le said he watched paramedics and firefighters pounding on Dziekanski’s chest as he lay on the floor. By that time, firefighters have told the inquiry, Dziekanski was likely already dead.
Meanwhile, a senior RCMP manager who happened to be at the airport that day, admitted under cross-examination that he can’t be sure whether he saw officers checking Dziekanski’s pulse after he collapsed.
Robert Jorssen, who is essentially the RCMP’s chief financial officer for the Pacific region, testified a day earlier that he saw an officer check Dziekanski’s pulse at least twice.
Whether the officers tried to help the man after he collapsed has become a key issue at the inquiry.
A fire captain testified earlier that when his crew arrived, no one was standing near Dziekanski and he didn’t believe anyone had been properly monitoring him.
Other witnesses have said they didn’t see the officers monitoring or performing first aid.
“I’m going to suggest to you, sir, that you never saw any of the police officers checking this man’s pulse,” Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski’s mother, asked Jorssen on Tuesday.
“What I know, I saw somebody touch this man’s wrist and towards his neck to feel a pulse, whether it was the hand of an officer or somebody else, that possibly could be the case, I can’t tell,” the RCMP manager replied.
Jorssen told police investigators in December 2007 that he assumed the officer was checking Dziekanski’s pulse because their hands were on the man.
He was adamant in his testimony that he did see someone checking Dziekanski.
“On two occasions, one on his wrist and one on his neck,” he said. “I’m still of the opinion that it was an officer.”
Under cross-examination by lawyers for the RCMP officers, Jorssen conceded that Dziekanski might not have raised a stapler that he had in his hand above his head prior to being hit with the Taser.
What Dziekanski did with the stapler has become a central issue at the inquiry, where lawyers for the officers have suggested the Mounties felt threatened.
Jorssen told the inquiry in earlier testimony that before he was shocked, Dziekanski lifted the stapler above his head, and he demonstrated by lifting his hand in the air.
However, after watching a bystander’s video that appears to show Dziekanski’s hands rise only after he is stunned, Jorssen changed his mind.
“Yes that brings back memories for sure; it appears he reacted after he was shot,” he said.
Jorssen, who left the airport without giving a statement to police, was questioned by investigators more than seven weeks after the incident.
The day after Dziekanski’s death he told a senior officer at RCMP headquarters in Vancouver what he witnessed. He said he was out of town on four occasions in those seven weeks, which might explain the delay.
The RCMP officers are involved are scheduled to appear at the inquiry at a later date.