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Mountie cleared of perjury in B.C. Tasering case

Confrontation led to immigrant's death

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Const. Bill Bentley was found not guilty of lying during an inquiry in 2009.

DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Const. Bill Bentley was found not guilty of lying during an inquiry in 2009.

VANCOUVER -- It is impossible to say for certain one of the four Mounties who confronted Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport worked with his three colleagues to concoct a story about what happened that night, says a judge who found the officer not guilty of perjury Monday.

Even an explosive video shot by a traveller may not hold the full story about what happened when Dziekanski was zapped repeatedly with a Taser before dying on the airport floor in October 2007, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan said in his verdict.

Const. Bill Bentley had been facing a charge he lied at a public inquiry into Dziekanski's death, but McEwan said there are "other explanations, inconsistent with the guilt of the accused, that remain open on the evidence."

When the verdict was pronounced, Bentley bent over and cried into a tissue.

Whether the verdict will change what happens with the perjury charges against Bentley's three colleagues is not clear. Crown counsel spokesman Neil MacKenzie said the special prosecutor will take a close look at the ruling.

"Each of these cases is determined on its own specific facts," he said.

"I don't want to speculate about what the effect of this decision may be other than to say that, obviously, the cases contain some interrelated facts."

Bentley was the first to be tried for perjury for his testimony during the 2009 inquiry, which was called to find answers about what happened the night the officers responded to a call about a distraught man throwing furniture in an arrivals area.

Bentley said in his notes Dziekanski came at the officers screaming and brandishing a stapler, prompting police to use the Taser several times and wrestle Dziekanski to the ground.

But the video, shot by traveller Paul Pritchard, appeared to contradict some of Bentley's notes and statements.

During Bentley's trial, the Crown called several witnesses from the airport and prosecutors relied on a comparison of the police officers' notes and statements.

Prosecutors tried to prove the collusion by relying on similarities in the four officers' notes and statements.

The fatal confrontation fuelled a national debate about the safety of Tasers, prompting the Braidwood Inquiry that forced Bentley and the other three officers to account for why they used so much force so quickly on a man who, on the surface, appeared calm when police arrived.

The Crown argued at trial Bentley and the other officers colluded on their stories to homicide investigators and then lied at the inquiry to cover up the deception.

"The peculiar nature of this case is that the alleged falsehood is that at the inquiry, Mr. Bentley lied about lying," McEwan wrote in his ruling.

"The Crown has not shown that in any particular (allegation), Mr. Bentley made a false statement knowing it to be false and with intent to mislead the inquiry. The Crown has advanced a suspicion based largely on circumstantial evidence."

Commissioner Thomas Braidwood's final report concluded the officers used too much force and had no justification for using the Taser.

But McEwan found that when Dziekanski picked up the stapler, he could be seen to be combative.

"It is quite possible that the Pritchard video did not capture the gestures several witnesses observed that would be consistent with Mr. Bentley's note that Mr. Dziekanski 'came at' the police because it was taken from behind Mr. Dziekanski."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2013 A10

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