VANCOUVER, B.C. – Robert Dziekanski took a “combative stance” with his fist clenched around a stapler, causing at least one RCMP officer to fear for his safety before the Polish man was stunned with a Taser at Vancouver’s airport.
But Const. Gerry Rundel told a public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death Monday that it was a far less threatening motion – turning away from the officers and tossing his hands in the air – that justified using a Taser.
Rundel is the first of the four officers to appear at the inquiry, recounting for the first time publicly the officers’ recollection of the final moments of Dziekanski’s life.
He said he and the other officers were on a dinner break at the airport RCMP detachment on Oct. 14, 2007, when they received a call over their radios about an intoxicated man throwing luggage around the international terminal.
They arrived within minutes, headed straight for Dziekanski and tried talking with him briefly, even though they were told by a witness that he didn’t speak English.
Rundel said Dziekanski reached for his luggage, prompting the supervising officer, Cpl. Monty Robinson, to shout “No” and motion for Dziekanski to stop, which he did.
Dziekanski then turned around, lifted his hands in the air and started to walk away.
At some point after that, Dziekanski picked up a stapler and when he turned back toward the officers, Rundel said he was holding the stapler up by his chest with his other hand in a fist.
“Mr. Dziekanski went from non-compliant behaviour at the luggage to what training has taught us is a resistant behaviour where he has directly disregarded a command and fled from us … and took up a combative stance,” said Rundel.
“I recall fearing for my safety to a certain degree.”
When Dziekanski took a step forward, Const. Kwesi Millington stunned him with the Taser, sending him thrashing about and screaming in pain.
When he didn’t immediately fall down, Millington was ordered by Robinson to shock him again. The Taser was deployed a total of five times.
Rundel, who made repeated references to his training, said Dziekanski’s actions justified the use of the Taser well before he picked up the stapler.
He said when Dziekanski turned away he was non-compliant and resistant, which, according to the RCMP’s use-of-force guidelines at the time, allowed the use of a Taser.
“He disobeyed a direction from Cpl. Robinson by flipping up his hands, turning around and leaving – that became resistant behaviour,” said Rundel.
“Once he turned away, walked away from us, according to my training, the authorization to use a Taser may be appropriate at that point.”
Rundel took long pauses when asked repeatedly by Patrick McGowan, a commission lawyer, what command Dziekanski disobeyed that made officers conclude he was resistant.
McGowan noted that Dziekanski stopped moving toward his luggage when he was ordered to.
Rundel eventually replied that Dziekanski “indirectly” disobeyed the officers when he walked away because he should have known they were police and should have stood still.
Rundel was shown a video of the incident, taken by a witness, and asked to point out when Dziekanski lifted the stapler in an aggressive manner, but he could not.
“Are Dziekanski’s hands not down?” asked retired judge Thomas Braidwood, who is overseeing the inquiry.
“From my view at that point, my best recollection is that they’re still in a combative stance, so I don’t think you really can make that determination from this back view,” replied Rundel.
Rundel also said that while they knew Dziekanski didn’t speak English, the officers didn’t discuss it before engaging him. Nor did they talk to nearby witnesses before confronting Dziekanski.
He didn’t feel that language was an issue in the ultimately fatal encounter.
“I don’t believe that the language barrier was a problem in that instant, due to the fact that he responded to the direction of the hand signal and the verbal ‘No’,” said Rundel.
The only other information officers had before arriving came from a dispatcher who told them Dziekanski was intoxicated and throwing furniture through glass windows.
Dziekanski wasn’t drunk – toxicology tests found no alcohol in his system.
The Crown announced in December that none of the Mounties will face criminal charges. The Crown said that while the officers contributed to Dziekanski’s death, their use of force was reasonable in the circumstances.
In his report, Braidwood will make recommendations to avoid similar deaths in the future and can make findings of misconduct against the officers or anyone else.