Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Braidwood Chronicles: the Pritchard factor

Does anyone else think it odd that the man who shot the video seen around the world, Paul Pritchard, was not called to testify at the Braidwood Inquiry?

His video, showing the last moments of Robert Dziekanski as he was set upon by four RCMP officers and killed, was exhaustively reviewed. And yet an important statement that he made shortly afterwards never surfaced at the Inquiry, although it was reported in the press at the time.

It becomes even more salient after the revelation, two days ago, that a key piece of evidence was overlooked by the Department of Justice, an internal RCMP email:

Finally spoke to Wayne and he indicated that the members did not articulate that they saw the symptoms of excited delirium, but had instead discussed the response en route and decided that (if) he did not comply that they would go to CEW [conducted energy weapon].

The "Wayne" here was Superintendent Wayne Rideout, who, as testimony before the Inquiry revealed, had covered up inaccuracies in the RCMP version of events at the Vancouver airport.

Pritchard, interviewed immediately after the Dziekanski killing, stated: "I heard 'Can I or should I Taser him?' before they even got to Mr. Dziekanski. Right away they Tasered him." A slightly different version of his comment was also reported: "As they ran in, I heard one of the officers say, 'Can I Taser him, should I Taser?' before they actually even got to Mr. Dziekanski."

This would be of a piece with the email revelation. The use of the Taser was clearly uppermost in the officers' minds before they had ever laid eyes on Dziekanski. They seem to have been, to put it bluntly, eager to try it out.

Will Pritchard be called to testify when the Inquiry resumes on September 22?

In the meantime, the Vancouver Sun has just got its hands on a 55-page internal RCMP report written in May, 2008, dealing with communications. Here is an interesting excerpt:

The members attending the scene told investigators that they began with verbal contact to calm Dziekanski and then decided to use the (Taser) when they saw Dziekanski turn toward them, arms swinging low and holding a stapler.

But on Paul Pritchard's video, two members arriving at YVR and walking toward Dziekanski are clearly heard asking if they have the (Taser) ready. They speak to Dziekanski for 25 seconds and for a few seconds he appears to calm down before he turns toward them with renewed aggression.

Obviously the decision to speak to him while preparing for a worse outcome appeared to the public as being too quick to discount verbal techniques and consider more aggressive ones. . . . But for a police officer, the idea of attending a scene with one strategy in mind while preparing for a worse outcome is common sense.

Never mind the self-serving nature of the commentary. Did you notice the phrase, "arms swinging low?" Yet two of the officers testified, in the kind of unison that can only be the result of practice, that Dziekanski has approached them in a threatening manner with the stapler raised. The RCMP brass had to have known that they were providing misinformation to the Inquiry, but no effort was made to correct the record.

Another day, another fatal inconsistency. We aren't simply dealing with four rogue officers here, it seems, but with what can only be described as institutional malfeasance.

UPDATE: Reader Alison reminds me that the words are clearly audible in the Pritchard video, excerpted by the CBC here @2:30 and @6:15. "May I Taser him?" "Yes." But this has not been remarked upon so far at the Braidwood Inquiry, other than one glancing reference (p.32). Thus modified, my point still stands: the officers had Tasering on their minds before they had even confronted Dziekanski. The email and the exchange at the airport reinforce each other.

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