VANCOUVER – A Mountie’s flawed account of what happened the night Robert Dziekanski died can be explained by the “frailty of human memory” in a traumatic situation, not a nefarious conspiracy among a group of police officers, a defence lawyer said Thursday as he argued there was no evidence to suggest his client has ever lied about the case.
Const. Bill Bentley is accused of lying at the public inquiry into Robert Dziekanski’s death, particularly when he attempted to explain discrepancies between what he initially told a homicide investigator and what could be seen on an amateur video of the incident that emerged later.
The Crown has alleged Bentley and the other three officers involved colluded on the story to tell homicide investigators about what happened when Dziekanski was stunned with a Taser at Vancouver’s airport, and then lied at the inquiry to cover up that deception.
But defence lawyer Peter Wilson, in his final submissions to the judge, noted other witnesses recalled seeing many of same things the officers did, including recalling — incorrectly — that Dziekanski was physically taken to the ground. The video clearly shows he fell because of the jolt from the Taser.
“The explanation is very simple: the event was described in terms with how it looked or how it was recalled by those who witnessed it and that is a direct function of the frailty of human memory,” Wilson said in B.C. Supreme Court.
“If Const. Bentley got the sequence of events mixed up in the course of that kind of situation, which lasted all of 25 seconds, then I say that was completely understandable,” Wilson added later.
Judge Mark McEwan is scheduled to release a verdict on July 29.
The Crown’s case has relied almost entirely on its assertion that similarities between the notes and police statements of the four officers — all of whom face perjury charges — prove they colluded.
There has been no evidence that the officers got together to concoct their story, such as a witness at the airport who might have seen them huddled together, but prosecutors have argued there is no other explanation for “striking similarities” between their police statements. The Crown has not specified exactly where or when the officers allegedly co-ordinated their story.
Wilson said the officers were busy with witness interviews and other tasks from the time Dziekanski was placed in handcuffs on the airport floor to when three of them were ordered to move to an RCMP detachment to wait for homicide investigators. Three of them were alone at the detachment for a period of time — it hasn’t been entirely clear how long — but their supervisor, who the Crown alleges was also part of the collusion, arrived later with the homicide investigators.
Wilson said Bentley, who wasn’t carrying a Taser and had limited involvement in the confrontation, had no reason to lie about his actions because he had done nothing wrong. It was Bentley, Wilson pointed out, who called an ambulance and who alerted a dispatcher when Dziekanski’s condition worsened.
“Here’s the youngest officer there with the least involvement — what on Earth did he have to cover up?” said Wilson.
Bentley and the other officers were called to Vancouver’s airport early the morning of Oct. 14, 2007, after Dziekanski started throwing furniture in the international arrivals terminal. Within seconds of arriving, one of the officers stunned Dziekanski multiple times with a Taser, and Dziekanski died on the airport floor in the minutes that followed.
Bentley wrote in his notes and told a homicide investigator that Dziekanski grabbed a stapler and came at the officers screaming before he was stunned. He also said two officers wrestled Dziekanski to the ground.
However, a video emerged a month later that contradicted parts of Bentley’s notes and statements — and the official story provided to the public by the RCMP. The video ignited a national debate about Tasers and prompted a sweeping public inquiry into the weapons and the circumstances of Dziekanski’s death.
Bentley spent two days testifying at the inquiry in February 2009, answering questions from lawyers representing interveners such as Dziekanski’s mother and the government of Poland.
Wilson said several of the alleged lies came during “unfair” cross-examination by those two lawyers in which Bentley was presented with cherry-picked, out-of-context quotes from his police statements and forced to narrate the video frame by frame.
“God help us if we all have to account for our lives frame by frame, because we’re going to be in serious trouble,” said Wilson.
Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington, Const. Gerry Rundell, and former corporal Benjamin (Monty) Robinson were all charged with perjury in May 2011.
The remaining three officers are scheduled to stand trial before juries in November of this year and February 2014.