The judge hearing the case of a Mountie accused of lying at the public inquiry into Robert Dziekanski’s death has raised doubts that the Crown had proved the four officers involved colluded to lie about what happened, suggesting there are other reasonable explanations for mistakes in their initial notes and police statements.
Crown counsel Scott Fenton delivered his closing submissions Wednesday at the perjury trial of Constable Bill Bentley, telling a B.C. Supreme Court judge that “striking similarities” between the notes and statements of each of the officers proves they collaborated on a fictitious story to tell homicide investigators.
Fenton then alleged Bentley lied at the public inquiry when he attempted to explain discrepancies between his initial accounts and a now-infamous amateur video of the officers stunning Dziekanski with a taser at Vancouver’s airport.
But Justice Mark McEwan interrupted Fenton several times, noting the officers’ statements did vary and also pointing out several civilian witnesses made the same sorts of mistakes as the four Mounties.
“They don’t have the exact same stories – I’ve compared them,” said McEwan, who is hearing the case alone, without a jury, and is scheduled to release a verdict on July 29.
“In context, they sound like four stories told by four people who saw the same thing. There are some differences.”
McEwan also said the explanation Bentley offered during his testimony at the inquiry in February 2009 – that he was confused by a fast-moving situation – may be reasonable.
“I put some stock in his observation that a lot of things happened in a short amount of time,” said McEwan.
“We’re parsing this down very closely. It’s 30 seconds. What happened in 30 seconds, as you can tell from the [civilian] witnesses, it’s confusing.”
The four officers – all of whom face perjury charges – were called to Vancouver’s airport early in the morning of Oct. 14, 2007, after Dziekanski started throwing furniture in the international arrivals terminal. Within seconds of arriving, one of the officers stunned Dziekanski multiple times with a taser.
Bentley wrote in his notes and told a homicide investigator that Dziekanski grabbed a stapler and came at the officers screaming before he was stunned and that two officers wrestled Dziekanski to the ground – both of which were clearly contradicted by the video, which emerged a month later.
At the inquiry, Bentley said he believed he was accurate when he wrote the note and suggested the account was merely out of sequence, because Dziekanski did start screaming once he was stunned.
He said he had no explanation for why he initially said two of his fellow officers took Dziekanski to the ground, when the video contradicts that statement.
Those explanations were all lies, said Fenton.
All four officers initially claimed Dziekanski was physically taken to the ground, and at least two said he appeared to be “fighting through” the taser stun.
McEwan replied that, even in those cases, there were differences.
The judge said Bentley qualified his account of how Dziekanski ended up on the floor by saying he “believed” two officers took him down, while Const. Kwesi Millington, who fired the taser, was more definitive and said all four officers “wrestled” Dziekanski to the ground.
Fenton acknowledged the officers used different language, but he said they all described something that didn’t happen: officers physically taking Dziekanski down.
Fenton said four police officers who experienced the events first-hand wouldn’t have all made the same mistake by coincidence.
Again, the judge disagreed that collusion between the officers was the only explanation for the errors.
“Experiencing a traumatic event means sometimes you have less of an appreciation of what happens than someone who is watching it,” said McEwan.
The trial started earlier this month, with the Crown calling several witnesses from the airport but mostly relying on a comparison of the four officers’ statements and police notes.
The defence, which did not call any evidence, has denied Bentley colluded with the other officers and has said his initial errors were honest mistakes that were the product of a fast-paced incident and the trauma of having been involved in an in-custody death.
Bentley, Millington, Const. Gerry Rundell, and former corporal Benjamin (Monty) Robinson, were each charged with perjury in May 2011.
The remaining three officers are standing trial separately. Those trials, scheduled to be heard by juries, are set for November of this year and February 2014.