VANCOUVER, B.C. – One of the Mounties who confronted Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver’s airport the night he was stunned by a Taser and died says he regrets the Polish man’s death.
But Const. Gerry Rundel told a public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death that there was nothing he could have done differently.
Rundel said Tuesday that the death in October 2007 was a “terrible outcome.”
Still, he said when he and three officers approached Dziekanski and shocked him with a Taser seconds later, they acted according to their training and did the best they could under the circumstances.
Rundel said he’s sure everyone involved has wondered if they could have done something differently.
“But given the fact that we came in without all that prior knowledge and had to deal with the situation with the limited information we had, I can’t say I could have done anything differently,” he said.
“That’s unfortunate, but that is how it is.”
By the time police arrived, Dziekanski had been travelling for more than a day and had been at the airport for nearly 10 hours.
When he finally cleared immigration and customs, his mother had already returned home to Kamloops, B.C.
He had a loud confrontation with a limo driver and then started throwing furniture around.
But Rundel said he and his fellow officers didn’t know any of that, and had to act quickly because they believed Dziekanski posed a threat as he clenched his fist around a stapler.
The officers’ reaction has been a central issue in the inquiry, and Rundel has said he has thought about it, as well.
“You regret what happened, of course,” said Ravi Hira, the lawyer for one of the other officers.
“Of course,” replied Rundel.
Earlier, the lawyer for Dziekanski’s mother, Walter Kosteckyj, questioned whether Rundel and the other officers acted according to their training in how they interacted with Dziekanski.
Rundel testified that they didn’t speak a word to each other or ask any witnesses for information before they confronted Dziekansi.
Rundel agreed with Kosteckyj that physical force is supposed to be a last resort, and that RCMP training emphasized the importance of communication and the need to analyze a scene upon arriving.
However, Rundel said there simply wasn’t enough time for any of that before the first shock of the Taser.
“Time did not allow that,” said Rundel. “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.
Kosteckyj 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.
“If the opportunity presented itself, that would have happened,” replied Rundel.
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.
The Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police came out in defence of Tasers Tuesday, declaring that every officer in the country should be authorized to carry one.
But they also admitted that officers have used Tasers too often, stunned peaceful suspects, and not been transparent enough in reporting how they’ve used the weapon.
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.