The trial for an RCMP officer charged with perjury can examine the police statements of all four Mounties involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death, a judge ruled Thursday.
The statements are a key piece of evidence for prosecutors as they allege the officers colluded to mislead homicide investigators, then lied at a public inquiry to cover up their collaboration.
The decision comes partway through the trial of Const. Bill Bentley, who is among four officers accused of lying at the public inquiry that examined what happened when Dziekanski was stunned with a Taser at Vancouver’s airport.
The Crown asked the judge to allow them to compare Bentley’s notes and his statement to a homicide investigator, provided in the hours after Dziekanski died on October 2007, with the statements of the other three officers.
The Crown alleges similar mistakes found in all four officers’ notes and statements indicate they colluded to come up with a story to justify their actions and then lied on the stand to cover up their initial dishonesty.
The defence urged the judge not to admit the statements.
But Justice Mark McEwan ruled that the statements will be allowed, though he did not comment on whether there is any merit to the Crown’s allegations of collusion.
“I am satisfied the statements of the other three officers are admissible for the limited purpose of comparisons with statements of the accused,” McEwan said as he delivered a brief oral decision in B.C. Supreme Court.
Last week, McEwan raised concerns that allowing the allegations of collusion into Bentley’s trial could be prejudicial to the other three officers, who are all scheduled to stand trial by juries later this year or early next year.
On Thursday, he reiterated those concerns, which he said should prompt “caution” when future juries are instructed.
Bentley was among four officers called to Vancouver’s airport after 911 calls about a man throwing furniture in a secure area of the international terminal. Dziekanski, who spoke no English, had spent nearly 10 hours at the airport after arriving from Poland to live with his mother.
Within seconds of arriving, one of the officers stunned Dziekanski with a Taser. He died on the airport floor.
Bentley is accused of lying at the public inquiry when he was asked to explain discrepancies between the initial accounts in his notes and police interviews, and what can be seen on an amateur video of the confrontation.
For example, Bentley wrote in his police notes that Dziekanski grabbed a stapler and “came at (the officers) screaming” before he was stunned; he told a homicide investigator that two officers took Dziekanski to the ground. Both of those claims were contradicted by the video, which emerged about a month after Dziekanski’s death.
The Crown has told the court that all four Mounties initially said two officers took Dziekanski to the ground, several suggested he moved toward the officers before he was stunned, and at least two said Dziekanski was “fighting through” the effects of the Taser.
Those similarities, prosecutors contend, shows there was collusion between the officers. The Crown plans to make the same allegations at the other officers’ trials, the court has heard.
Bentley’s defence has suggested the initial inaccuracies were honest mistakes that were the product of a rapidly unfolding event and the trauma of having been involved in an in-custody death.
The defence has noted several civilian witnesses at the airport made the same mistakes as the officers.
The trial heard the latest example Thursday, when Lance Rudek, who was a security guard at the airport, was asked to review a statement he provided to a homicide investigator in the early morning hours after Dziekanski died.
Rudek said in his statement that “two or three” officers “took a couple of seconds to get him on the ground,” even though the video clearly shows Dziekanski falling, without being tackled, after the first Taser jolt.
“That’s what I remember,” Rudek testified Thursday.
None of the allegations against Bentley or the other officers have been tested in court.
Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington, Const. Gerry Rundell, and former corporal Benjamin (Monty) Robinson, were each charged with perjury in May 2011.
They are standing trial separately, with the remaining trials scheduled for November of this year and February, 2014.
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