RCMP spokesman told to hold off correcting false details of Dziekanski incident, inquiry hears
The head of the Lower Mainland's Integrated Homicide Investigation Team decided not to correct misinformation police had given to the media in 2007 about the use of a Taser against Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport, a public inquiry heard Wednesday.
Cpl. Dale Carr, the unit's spokesman, testified Wednesday at the Braidwood inquiry that it was clear within two days of Dziekanski's death on Oct. 14, 2007, that some of the information being provided to the media was inaccurate.
In the first two days after Dziekanski died, the RCMP's public statements on the incident contained false information about how many officers were involved, how many times Dziekanski was stunned and what state Dziekanski was in (initial reports described him as violent with police when, in fact, he had been calm).
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 video taken by a civilian on the scene that emerged afterward 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 airport's public area by a thick glass wall.
Carr testified Wednesday he went to Supt. Wayne Rideout, the head of the homicide investigation team, seeking to correct the record.
"My direction was to hold on: 'We will not talk about evidence. Everything will be corrected eventually. It's just not going to be right now'," Carr testified.
Carr testified the source of some of the first inaccurate police accounts about Dziekanski came from Carr's notes, which describe the Polish immigrant as agitated and combative.
He said the notes were based on information he was given at a briefing at the RCMP detachment in Richmond a few hours after Dziekanski died.
The briefing was attended by senior RCMP spokesman Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, investigators and Cpl. Monty Robinson, the officer in charge of the four Mounties who confronted Dziekanski at the airport.
The witness video, shot by Paul Pritchard, who was returning to Victoria from China that night, was played on a laptop computer during the briefing, the inquiry heard.
"I have made notes that he [Dziekanski] was seen throwing stuff around, that he was in an agitated state. He grabbed a computer. YVR [Vancouver Airport] security attempted to intervene," Carr testified.
"I have a note here that says RCMP arrived. I've got in brackets, four members … swinging an article at members, members attempt to control verbally. He was non-compliant. CEW [Conducted Energy Weapon] used and once on ground, continued to fight," Carr read his notes to court.
Carr's information was passed on to Lemaitre, who made the first police statements about the Dziekanski incident to reporters, the inquiry heard.
Dziekanski died on the airport's floor shortly after being shocked five times by a police Taser. Robinson and three other RCMP officers — Const. Gerry Rundel, Const. Bill Bentley and Const. Kwesi Millington — had been deployed to the international arrivals lounge in response to reports that Dziekanski was throwing furniture and causing a scene.
Carr also testified a decision was made not to acknowledge the existence of the witness video.
"Very commonly, we never talk about all our evidence that we have gathered. We just don't do that. And unless it was asked of us directly we are not going to talk about that type of thing," Carr told the inquiry.
Pritchard had to go to court to get his video back from the RCMP, which was later broadcast in the media, shedding light on the last moments of Dziekanski's life and sparking an international outcry at the inaccuracies in the police accounts of the incident.
In his testimony Tuesday, Lemaitre said the information he told the media came from Carr, adding that his personal reputation suffered because he was the public face of the first police accounts of the incident.
Carr testified Wednesday that he was at Lemaitre's side for media scrums at the airport but paid little attention to what the senior spokesman was saying.
Carr suggested Lemaitre might have embellished some facts, including the number of times Dziekanski was stunned.
"I gave Sgt. Lemaitre the information that's here in my notebook," Carr said. "Additional information, additional editorial comments that Sgt. Lemaitre made, I can't be confident that I gave him that information."
Lemaitre was taken off the case after 48 hours, mainly for logistical reasons, Carr said.
The two had agreed at the outset the best strategy was to get timely and accurate information out to the media without compromising the investigation, the inquiry heard.
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.
With files from The Canadian Press