British Columbia

Dziekanski death at hands of RCMP a homicide, B.C. coroner rules

The death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in an altercation with RCMP officers at Vancouver's airport six years ago was a homicide, the B.C. Coroner's Service says.

Taser jolts led to Polish immigrant's fatal heart attack in 2007, report says

Robert Dziekanski holds a small table at the Vancouver airport before he was stunned with a Taser by police in this image from video. The B.C. Coroner's Service says the death of the Polish immigrant six years ago was a homicide. (Paul Pritchard/Canadian Press)

The death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in an altercation with RCMP officers at Vancouver's airport six years ago was a homicide, British Columbia's Coroners Service says.

Homicide is considered a neutral term in a coroner's report, meaning the death was caused by the actions of another person; it does not imply any blame.

Dziekanski, 40, who did not speak English, became agitated after spending more than nine hours wandering in the airport arrivals area in October 2007 and was confronted by four Mounties who stunned him several times with a Taser.

The incident was captured on amateur video, which fuelled public anger and prompted the government to order a public inquiry headed by former justice Thomas Braidwood.

Jolts led to heart attack

The coroner's report says Dziekanski died of a heart attack following the Taser jolts, echoing a similar conclusion made in Braidwood's report.

"The finding of Mr. Justice Braidwood was that Mr. Dziekanski died as a result of a cardiac arrhythmia," said coroner Patrick Cullinane.

"He also found that both the multiple deployments of the conducted energy weapon along with the physical altercation contributed to the circumstance leading to the fatal arrhythmia. I concur with the findings of Mr. Justice Braidwood," Cullinane wrote.

His report also found no other factors in the death, including drugs.

"[The] autopsy showed no significant injuries and no natural disease process that would have likely led to sudden death," the report said.

Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, said she never doubted that the four RCMP officers were involved in her son's death.

"Of course they caused the death of my son. They just came and they shot him with a Taser," she told CBC News.

The facts of her son's death continue to haunt her, but Cisowski said she takes comfort in the coroner's verdict of homicide and hopes it will lead to a new investigation of the RCMP's actions.

"I think they should be responsible for what has happened," she said.

Braidwood's inquiry found the Mounties acted too quickly when they arrived at the airport, where Dziekanski had been throwing furniture, and they then used excessive force when one of them repeatedly fired the Taser.

The officers are each facing perjury charges related to their testimony at the inquiry.

'Capacity to kill'

Braidwood also conducted a separate inquiry into the general use of Tasers in B.C.

He concluded the conducted energy weapon has the capacity to kill in certain situations, and said they should be used only in cases involving bodily harm or the threat of bodily harm.

He made several recommendations on the use of such weapons, including standardized training for police officers, the filing of detailed reports whenever a Taser is used, and independent testing of the devices.

Braidwood also called for the creation of an independent office to review serious incidents involving police officers in British Columbia, instead of having police investigate other police.

That recommendations led to the creation last fall of the independent investigations office, which now examines any case in which the actions of B.C. police officers cause death or serious injury, including those involving the RCMP.

Taser use by police in B.C. has fallen 87 per cent since Dziekanski's death.

With files from the CBC's Curt Petrovich