[Note: One week after Stan Lowe helped exonerate the four RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death, Lowe was appointed B.C.’s police complaint commissioner. Now the provincial government plans to give him authority over the new Independent Investigations Office too.]

Criminal Justice Branch
all but blamed the victim

Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun, Dec. 12, 2008


B.C. prosecutors believe Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver airport last year in part because he was scared of flying, exhausted from a murderously long trans-continental flight and in alcohol withdrawal.

In an embarrassing damage control exercise, Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Stan Lowe all but blamed the victim Friday as he announced prosecutors were washing their hands of the case.

Lowe said no charges would be laid against four Mounties who zapped the 40-year-old Polish immigrant five times with a Taser and jumped on him moments before he died from cardiac arrest.

Five times! The Mounties jolted Dziekanski five times before pouncing on him as he writhed on the floor!

Until now the RCMP maintained the conducted energy weapon was discharged only “twice.”

Add that to the other misstatements the force made following this incident, and little that Lowe said at his media conference would restore eroded public faith in the RCMP or the legal system.

Dziekanski’s mother, Sofia Cisowski, as well as her lawyer, Walter Kosteckyj, were understandably angry.

And they were flabbergasted that Lowe portrayed Dziekanski as a menacing alcoholic in withdrawal delirium after 30 hours of exhausting international travel.

“In Poland, it’s not unusual to drink a lot,” Cisowski said. “He used to drink a lot at one time. But that was when he was younger. I was with my son in the spring and he didn’t drink excessively.”

Cisowski had waited at the airport for hours to meet her son the night of his death, but ineffective airport and customs services kept them apart.

She returned to her home in Kamloops without ever knowing he was only steps away, until she was told he had been killed by police.

She said she was very disappointed in the prosecutors’ decision: “How can you tell me Tasering my son five times and then having four officers jump on his neck and back within 25 seconds of meeting him, how can you say that’s not excessive use of force?”

Kosteckyj said he couldn’t understand why the RCMP sent four officers to Poland to dig up personal information on Dziekanski.

He revealed that Dziekanski died with a full, still-sealed bottle of Polish vodka in his carry-on bag.

“Had he been the degenerate alcoholic they describe he could have had a drink any time during the 30 hours he was traveling,” Kosteckyj added.

There was no alcohol or drugs in Dziekanski’s system.

Still, Kosteckyj said he was not surprised at the decision to not lay charges.

“From a professional point of view,” he explained, “the Criminal Code standards for conviction in a situation like this are so high, and there are exemptions provided for police officers following their duty. I did not think charges were likely.”

A video recording of the scuffle triggered international controversy because Dziekanski, who didn’t speak English, appeared to be trying to surrender and was obviously confused in the moments before he was violently taken down.

“The video (of the Oct. 14, 2007 encounter in a secure area of the international arrivals terminal) shows that [Dziekanski] was holding a stapler in his right hand in the open position,” Lowe said.

That was so threatening to the four stocky police officers that their actions were justifiable, he added.

Dziekanski was exhibiting behaviour consistent with “delirium,” Lowe said, which could be explained by a number of factors “including alcohol withdrawal, lack of sleep, dehydration, and a high degree of anxiety.”

Asked if the Taser used against Dziekanski was one of the models withdrawn from use over concerns about higher-than-expected discharge, Lowe couldn’t say.

He similarly dodged other questions, such as who tested the suspect electronic gun, why did the officers not attempt CPR and what took emergency rescue personnel so long to respond?

He maintained Dziekanski was a victim of “sudden death following restraint” and the public will have to wait to get all the facts when retired Justice Thomas Braidwood’s provincial inquiry resumes in January.

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