One of the four RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death sat in court Monday with his head bowed as his perjury trial watched the now-infamous video of the confrontation that left the Polish man dead.
The amateur recording, released a month after Dziekanski was stunned with a taser at Vancouver’s airport in October 2007, fuelled a debate about taser use and prompted a public inquiry in which the shaky video clip became a key piece of evidence.
The video is now at the heart of the perjury trial of Const. Bill Bentley, who is accused of lying six times at the 2009 inquiry — primarily when he attempted to explain discrepancies between what he wrote in his police notes and told homicide investigators and what the video actually shows.
For example, Bentley claimed in his notes and police interviews that Dziekanski screamed and came at the officers before the taser was used and that two officers physically brought Dziekanski to the ground, but the video contradicts both of those assertions.
Bentley sat silently in the prisoner’s dock with his head down as the video played on at least a half dozen computer screens scattered around the courtroom. Several members of his family sat in the public gallery behind him.
The video, which was broken up into several separate clips, begins before police were called to the international arrivals terminal at Vancouver’s airport, where Dziekanski was throwing furniture and using chairs to hold open an automatic door as a group of onlookers watched his bizarre behaviour unfold.
Dziekanski had arrived at the airport nearly 10 hours earlier after leaving his native Poland to live with his mother in Canada.
By the time he emerged from customs, his mother had already left, believing he did not arrive on his scheduled flight. Dziekanski spoke no English and could not communicate with anyone around him.
Four Mounties, including Bentley, responded to a 911 call from the airport. The first sign of them on the video comes as Dziekanski shouts what sounds like the Polish word for police.
Bentley is the first officer to walk into the camera frame and can be heard asking his fellow officers about a taser. The exact wording is difficult to make out on the video, but according to a video of his testimony that was also played Monday, Bentley told the inquiry he asked, “Do you have a taser on?”
Bentley then hops over a railing and walks up to Dziekanski. He told the inquiry he was the first officer to speak with Dziekanski, saying, “Hi, how are you, sir? How’s it going, bud?” before another officer took over.
The video then shows the officers gather around Dziekanski, who throws his hands in the air and walks to a nearby desk. It was at the desk, Bentley told the inquiry, that Dziekanski picked up a stapler before turning back toward the officers.
Within seconds, the cracking sound of the taser can be heard on the video, immediately followed by shrill screams as Dziekanski falls to the floor, flailing as the taser is repeatedly deployed.
The video shows the officers gather around Dziekanski to restrain and handcuff him as he continues screaming and groaning. He died shortly after on the airport floor.
Bentley wrote about the incident in his police notebook and then, several hours after Dziekanski’s death in the early morning of Oct. 14, 2007, provided a statement to a homicide investigator.
In his police notes, he wrote: “Subject grabbed stapler and came at members screaming.”
During his interview with a homicide investigator, Bentley said: “He grabbed a stapler and started to kind of aiming it at members.”
But Bentley conceded during the inquiry that Dziekanski did not scream before the taser was used.
He testified that, when he made the note, he believed he was giving an accurate account and was confused about the sequence of events. He told the inquiry the assertion was “somewhat accurate,” since Dziekanski did start screaming once the taser was deployed.
He also wrote in his notes and told the homicide investigator that two officers brought Dziekanski to the floor, although it’s clear on the video that Dziekanski fell almost immediately after the first taser jolt.
At the inquiry, Bentley said he had no explanation for the error, “other than it’s incorrect.”
The Crown alleges Bentley’s attempts at the inquiry to explain the errors were lies, designed to cover up the fact that he had earlier misled homicide investigators.
A prosecutor told a pre-trial hearing last week that the other three officers — all of whom are also awaiting trial on perjury charges — made similar errors in their notes and police statements. The Crown alleged the similarities between the statements suggest the officers colluded to come up with the story in their notes and police statements.
None of the allegations — against Bentley or any of 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 each standing trial separately. Bentley’s is the first trial, while the remaining trials are scheduled for November and February of next year.