One of four Mounties who confronted Robert Dziekanski the night the Polish immigrant was stunned with a Taser and died on the floor of the Vancouver airport says the fatal confrontation was “the most traumatic” thing that had ever happened to him.
Constable Bill Bentley broke down in tears on Monday as he described what happened in the hours after Mr. Dziekanski died – part of a pretrial hearing to determine what evidence should be admitted at his trial for perjury. He is accused of lying at a public inquiry.
Constable Bentley, who has pleaded not guilty, said he was busy taking statements from witnesses when his superior – another one of the officers facing perjury charges – told him Mr. Dziekanski had died. Shortly after, he was told to leave the airport and return to the RCMP’s detachment to wait for homicide investigators.
“I was a mess, I was just really upset about the whole incident,” Constable Bentley said. “I describe it as basically the most traumatic thing in my life.”
Shortly after the questions about his emotional state, Constable Bentley’s lawyer changed the topic, but the officer choked up as tears ran down his face. The judge stood the hearing down while Constable Bentley regained his composure.
Constable Bentley and three other officers responded to 911 calls early on Oct. 14, 2007, after Mr. Dziekanski, who had been in the airport for nearly 10 hours and spoke no English, started throwing furniture.
Within seconds, one of the officers stunned Mr. Dziekanski several times with a Taser. He died shortly after.
The officers were charged with perjury in May, 2011, over allegations they lied at a public inquiry into the case. Constable Bentley is the first to stand trial, and none of the allegations against him or the other officers has been proven in court.
Constable Bentley is accused of lying six times during his testimony at the public inquiry, primarily when he attempted to explain apparent discrepancies between his police notes and an amateur video of the incident. The indictment read out on Monday also alleges Constable Bentley lied when he said he could not remember what he said to the other three officers about the incident.
The trial was scheduled to start on Monday, but the defence and the Crown made applications regarding the admissibility of evidence.
The judge has been asked to decide whether a statement Constable Bentley made to homicide investigators should be admitted. The hearings this week will also determine whether to allow statements from the other three officers.
Constable Bentley was the second witness, and his testimony was limited to the circumstances of his statement to the police.
He told the court he had interviewed several witnesses when former Corporal Benjamin Robinson, who is also charged with perjury, told him Mr. Dziekanski had died.
Shortly after, Constable Bentley was told to go to the RCMP’s airport detachment a short drive away to give statements to homicide investigators.
The court heard from a staff relations representative, who fulfills the same role as a union representative, who told the officers they would be asked for a “duty to account” statement. “Duty to account” was a term to describe a practice of ensuring officers provide a detailed account when they are involved in such a incident, the court heard.
One of the homicide investigators, Staff Sergeant David Attew, told the court he believed RCMP officers were obliged to provide a statement under their duty to account and they would likely face discipline if they did not comply.
The court heard that Constable Bentley was not told his statement could be used as evidence – known as a charter warning – and was not given the chance to speak with a lawyer.
Staff Sgt. Attew said the officers were not given charter warnings because, at the time, investigators did not believe there was any evidence of a crime.
The court also heard that another homicide investigator told the officers, “You guys aren’t suspects or anything like that.”
Under questioning from the Crown, Constable Bentley said he was never told he was under investigation for a crime. Crown counsel Scott Fenton suggested Constable Bentley had nothing to worry about.
“You in your own mind, you did not think you had done anything wrong that night?” Mr. Fenton asked.
“No, I didn’t think I did anything wrong,” Constable Bentley replied.
The pretrial hearings on evidence are expected to last all week. The trial is expected to take up to three weeks.
The three other officers – Constable Kwesi Millington, Constable Gerry Rundell and former Cpl. Benjamin Robinson – are scheduled for separate trials in November and in February, 2014.