None of the four RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death were considered potential suspects by the homicide investigators who were brought in to review the in-custody death, the perjury trial for one of the Mounties heard Tuesday.
In fact, the officers were told the incident likely wasn’t “going to be a big deal” and weren’t given a standard warning that their statements could become evidence before they were interviewed, the court heard.
Constable Bill Bentley is accused of lying six times during a public inquiry into what happened when Mr. Dziekanski was stunned by a taser and died in October, 2007, although the start of the Crown’s case against him has been delayed by arguments about the admissibility of statements he and the other three officers gave to investigators.
Sergeant Derek Brassington, a member of the RCMP-led integrated homicide unit that responded, testified about his involvement in the case and the circumstances of the officers’ statements, which were taken several hours after Mr. Dziekanski’s fatal confrontation with police at Vancouver’s airport.
Sgt. Brassington said a team of nine homicide investigators went there after they received word a man had died in police custody.
Hours earlier, Constable Bentley and three other officers arrived at the airport in response to 911 calls about an erratic man throwing furniture. Within seconds of showing up, one of the officers stunned Mr. Dziekanski multiple times with a taser, and the Polish immigrant died on the airport floor shortly after.
Sgt. Brassington told the court his unit requested that Bentley and two of the other officers involved in Mr. Dziekanski’s death – Constable Kwesi Millington and Constable Gerry Rundell – return to the RCMP’s airport detachment. The fourth officer, Benjamin (Monty) Robinson, who was a corporal at the time but has since left the force, remained at the airport.
Sgt. Brassington and several other investigators later headed to the detachment to take statements from the officers, and Robinson accompanied them.
“Did you have discussions with [the other investigators] about whether any of the officers were suspects?” asked Crown counsel Scott Fenton.
“I have a vague recollection of meeting with them at the airport and discussing the game plan and that none of them were considered suspects.”
All four officers are now facing perjury charges for their testimony in February and March of 2009 at the public inquiry.
Once at the detachment, a short drive from the airport, Sgt. Brassington told the officers they needed to provide a statement under an obligation known as a duty to account. The court has already heard the term referred to as a vague, loosely defined requirement that officers involved in such incidents must account for their actions.
But Sgt. Brassington began by attempting to put the officers’ minds at ease, he said.
“I remember saying when I walked in and saw them there, ‘This doesn’t look like this is going to be a big deal, guys,’” recalled Sgt. Brassington.
“They weren’t considered suspects.”
Sgt. Brassington took a statement from Constable Millington, the officer who fired the taser, while another investigator interviewed Bentley.
At the time, neither Sgt. Brassington nor any of the other investigators had viewed a video of Mr. Dziekanski’s confrontation with the four officers, captured by a witness and quickly seized by police.
However, Sgt. Brassington said even if he had watched the video beforehand, it wouldn’t have changed his assessment that none of the officers were potential suspects in a crime.
The trial has heard that none of the officers were given a warning at any point during their interviews that their statements could be used as evidence. They also weren’t given the opportunity to consult a lawyer.
This week’s hearings relate to the admissibility of Constable Bentley’s statement to homicide investigators, as well as the admissibility of the other officers’ statements.
Defence and Crown lawyers have each made applications regarding the admissibility of those statements, but they have not yet explained the arguments they will be making about whether the statements should be admitted or kept out of the trial.
Constables Bentley, Millington and Rundell and Mr. Robinson were each charged with one count of perjury in May of 2011 for their testimony at the public inquiry.
Each officer is standing trial separately. Mr. Robinson’s is scheduled to start in November, while Constables Millington and Rundell aren’t scheduled to go to trial until early next year.
Their trials are currently scheduled to be heard by juries, while Constable Bentley has elected trial by judge alone.