The trial of a Mountie accused of lying at the public inquiry into Robert Dziekanski’s death turned its attention Wednesday back to the night of the Polish immigrant’s fatal confrontation with police, hearing the imperfect recollections of eye witnesses who made their own mistakes when they first attempted to describe what they saw.
Const. Bill Bentley is charged with perjury for his testimony at hearings that examined what happened when Dziekanski was stunned with a taser and died at Vancouver’s airport – specifically, when he attempted to explain discrepancies between his initial accounts in October, 2007, and an amateur video of the incident that emerged later.
Bentley was forced during the inquiry to explain why he told homicide investigators and wrote in his own notes that Dziekanski came at the officers screaming before he was stunned and that two officers took Dziekanski to the ground – both of which are contradicted by the video.
The Crown has alleged that Bentley intentionally misled homicide investigators and recorded inaccurate information in his notes, and then lied at the inquiry to cover up his dishonesty.
Three witnesses who were at the airport testified Wednesday. Each gave statements to police in the hours after the incident that painted Dziekanski as an aggressive, confrontational man who appeared to be ready to attack the four police officers who were on scene.
Bentley’s lawyer highlighted several such comments from the witnesses, as the defence argues the officer’s mistakes were the product of a fast-moving situation combined with the trauma of having just been involved in an in-custody death.
Sidharth Arora, an airport security guard, told a homicide investigator in October, 2007, that he saw Dziekanski pick up a stapler and swing it at the police officers before he was tackled to the ground and then stunned with the taser.
On Wednesday, Arora wasn’t asked to reconcile his initial statement with the video, which does not show Dziekanski swing the stapler and clearly shows him falling, without being tackled, once the taser is deployed.
“One of the things that you commented on in your statement to police and when you testified (at the public inquiry) was that everything happened so fast and, from your perspective, that made it hard to remember because things went by so quickly – is that true?,” asked Bentley’s lawyer, Peter Wilson.
“Yes,” replied Arora.
The Crown, in turn, noted that Arora and another witness, who were both interviewed by Bentley that night, also said Dziekanski fell as soon as he was stunned.
In his interview with Bentley – which took place before Bentley provided his own account to homicide investigators – Arora said: “I believe they tasered him once and he went down after that.”
Another witness, airport operations manager Greg Sambrook, said several times during his police statements that the officers “physically” took Dziekanski to the ground, though at other times he described Dziekanski falling.
During an interview at the airport, conducted by Bentley, Sambrook said: “He was tasered and fell to the ground.”
Bentley and the three other officers were called to the airport after Dziekanski, who had been in the airport for nearly 10 hours and spoke no English, became distraught and started throwing furniture.
Within seconds of arriving, one of the officers repeatedly stunned Dziekanski with a taser. He died on the airport floor.
Last week, a prosecutor told a pre-trial hearing that the other three officers – all of whom are also awaiting trial for perjury – made similar errors in their notes and police statements. The Crown alleged the similarities between those statements suggest the officers colluded to come up with the story they told investigators.
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.