VANCOUVER, B.C. – As Robert Dziekanski lay screaming and writhing on the floor of Vancouver’s airport after being jolted by a Taser, the officer triggering the device felt the man was being combative and stunned him several more times.
Const. Kwesi Millington told a public inquiry Monday he delivered the first shock of the 50,000-volt weapon because Dziekanski had picked up a stapler and he believed the man was about to attack.
But the Taser was used four more times after Dziekanski had already fallen to the ground.
“The person that it’s applied against is supposed to fall immediately and it’s supposed to immobilize them,” said Millington in his first public account of the day Dziekanski died.
“It did not have that effect so I felt it was necessary to fire it again.”
After the four officers first approached Dziekanski, he turned toward the officers holding a stapler.
“He was in a combative stance, as we call it, and was approaching the officers I believe with the intent to attack,” said Millington.
At one point, inquiry lawyer Art Vertlieb handed Millington the black office stapler recovered from the scene and asked him to demonstrate what the man was doing with it.
The officer stood up in the witness box and held the stapler in his right hand near his chest, with his other hand in a fist.
Vertlieb noted all four officers, who were standing several metres away, were each wearing a bullet-proof vest and carrying a gun, pepper spray and a baton.
“Given all the four officers and the tools and the distance, that’s what scared you?” Vertlieb said, referring to the stapler.
“That’s what made me fear for the officers’ safety,” replied Millington.
The first shock, in a mode that fires two probes at a subject, came without warning and lasted six seconds as Dziekanski screamed and stumbled to the ground.
One second passed before the Millington shocked him again.
Millington said Dziekanski was still struggling, although when the second stun began, he was already on the floor and the other officers hadn’t yet approached to restrain him.
He said his superior officer ordered him to use the Taser again, so Millington used the device a third time, but it made a “clacking” noise and he believed it didn’t have any effect.
He said the other officers were still trying to get Dziekanski’s hands behind his back, so he switched the device to “push-stun mode,” where the Taser is held directly against a person’s body, and stunned him again.
“Did it occur to you that his movements on the ground, his moving around, was a response to pain and not an attempt to be resistant?” asked Vertlieb.
“After the first one, when he fell to the ground, I interpreted that to be he didn’t feel the full effects,” replied Millington.
The Taser’s internal computer indicates it was used one more time, although Millington couldn’t remember a fifth stun.
Millington’s testimony varied from what he told homicide investigators investigating Dziekanski’s death.
He told investigators in October 2007 that Dziekanski was yelling with the stapler held high before he was stunned.
The officer also said Dziekanski was standing for the first three jolts, and that officers had to wrestle him to the ground.
After watching a bystander’s video, Millington agreed Dziekanski might not have been yelling, but he insisted the man raised the stapler out of view of the camera.
He conceded that Dziekanski was only standing for the first stun, and fell to the ground on his own.
A form that Millington was required to fill out because he deployed a Taser also included numerous errors, the inquiry heard.
Millington wrote that Dziekanski was swinging the stapler “wildly” at the officers, but conceded in his testimony that didn’t happen.
“That’s what my notes said and my statement,” said Millington, without offering an explanation for the discrepancies.
Officers are supposed to warn people before they are stunned with the phrase: “Stop or you’ll be hit with 50,000 volts of electricity.”
Millington, who repeatedly referred to his training, didn’t say anything before using the weapon.
The officer also said he was trained that multiple stuns could be “hazardous” and should be avoided unless necessary, although he couldn’t remember why more than one stun might be a bad idea.
Yet looking back, Millington said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“We acted in accordance to our training,” he said. “Of course I never intended this result. I never intended for Mr. Dziekanski to pass away.”
Crown prosecutors decided last year not to charge the officers, saying the use of force was justified in the circumstances, but the inquiry commissioner could make findings of misconduct against the officers or anyone else involved.