The RCMP's most senior media officer in B.C. has apologized for inaccuracies in the information police provided to the media about the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport.
Sgt. Tim Shields said Tuesday it is time to acknowledge the force's mistakes in the wake of the Taser incident and to apologize for them.
Shields's statement came as RCMP officer Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, a spokesperson for the force at the time of the Dziekanski incident, testified Tuesday at a public inquiry into the Polish immigrant's Oct. 14, 2007, death.
Lemaitre, who joined the force in 1986 and is now with its traffic services branch, has been criticized for misleading reporters and saying Dziekanski was combative and the police's quick use of a Taser stun gun was justified.
Dziekanski died on the airport's floor shortly after being shocked five times by the Taser. Four RCMP officers had been deployed to the international arrivals lounge in response to reports that Dziekanski was throwing furniture and causing a scene.
Shields maintained that Lemaitre, who was assigned to explain to the media what happened to Dziekanski, did not deliberately mislead the public but simply passed on information that had been given to him by investigators.
"The role of the police media relations officer is to provide information very quickly and to provide accurate information," Shields said.
The misinformation police provided at the time focused on how many officers were at the scene, how many times they discharged their Taser and whether Dziekanski was combative.
Police originally said they only discharged their Taser twice, whereas it was subsequently revealed they had fired it five times. The RCMP also repeatedly said three Mounties were involved in the incident, while a witness video that emerged shortly after showed four men in RCMP uniforms.
The RCMP also said they didn't use pepper spray on Dziekanski because of the large number of people at the airport at the time. But the video shows Dziekanski standing alone with the four officers in an otherwise empty area, which is separated from the Vancouver airport's public area by a thick glass wall.
"In this case, during the course of the investigation, we found that there was some information that was provided and made public that was not accurate," Shields acknowledged Tuesday. "And for those inaccuracies, we apologize and we are sorry."
'What is it that we want to do?'
In his testimony Tuesday, Lemaitre said he met RCMP Cpl. Dale Carr, spokesperson for the Lower Mainland's Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, at the Richmond detachment hours after Dziekanski died. Also at the meeting was Cpl. Monty Robinson, the officer in charge of the four Mounties who confronted Dziekanski.
"The first thing that Dale and I discussed was exactly our strategy. Do we have a strategy? What is it that we want to do here? And we wanted to get as much information as possible out to the public," Lemaitre said.
"Dale told me what information that he had cleared with his superiors that could be released."
Lemaitre said he told reporters what Carr had told him was approved for release — that a man of unknown origin had been causing a disturbance at the airport.
Dziekanski "had been banging on glass, had thrown a computer to the ground. [RCMP] members arrived, attempted to calm him down [and to] communicate with him," Lemaitre testified.
"And at some point they deployed their Taser, struggled with him,... and as we now know the man unfortunately passed away."
Before speaking to the media that fateful day, Lemaitre watched about a minute of the witness video on a laptop computer showing Dziekanski being stunned by a Taser, the inquiry heard.
"The sequence that I can recall is the sequence where Mr. Dziekanski is Tasered," Lemaitre testified. "What I saw were three [RCMP] members struggling with him."
The witness video, filmed by Victoria resident Paul Pritchard, has been played over and over at the inquiry and used to counter statements given by Robinson, Const. Gerry Rundel, Const. Bill Bentley and Const. Kwesi Millington, who have been accused of providing inconsistent and even fabricated accounts of what really happened.
Lemaitre, who said he didn't take any notes that day, testified he couldn't recall whether Robinson said anything at their meeting after the incident. Lemaitre said his interaction was mainly with Carr as they tried to work out their media strategy.
Inquiry lawyer Art Vertlieb asked Lemaitre whether the video section he viewed that morning gave him the impression the violence was escalating.
"I can't answer that," Lemaitre replied. "I wasn't there."
But he insisted that what he saw of the video that morning led him to conclude Dziekanski was combative.
Carr was scheduled to testify at the inquiry later this week.
The provincially mandated inquiry was called in the wake of Dziekanski's death and is being overseen by Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Court of Appeal justice. Braidwood will make recommendations to prevent similar deaths and he could make findings of misconduct against the officers or anyone else involved.