Canadian TASER case hears testimony
By Jeremy Hainsworth
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A Polish man who died after police used their Tasers on him at Vancouver International Airport was jet-lagged, fatigued and hungry in the hours before his death, a customs officer told an inquiry Monday.
The inquiry into the death of immigrant Robert Dziekanski saw videotape of him as he dealt with at least five Canada Border Services officials asking him questions in a language he didn't speak about documents he couldn't read. He had been in the airport for more than six hours.
"He was understandably a little frustrated and impatient," said immigration official Juliette Van Agteren. "He wasn't comfortable because he was thirsty. He was probably hungry."
Shortly after Van Agteren stamped his landed immigrant papers, Dziekanski began throwing furniture in the airport's international arrivals area.
He apparently became upset when he did not see his mother in the secure baggage area - which she was not allowed to enter.
Dziekanski's death brought international attention and intense criticism after video of the incident was released.
Van Agteren said she had paged mother Zofia Cisowski with no luck.
Four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers said they used Tasers after Dziekanski began acting erratically.
A coroner's report later said he showed signs of chronic alcoholism, but that had no alcohol or drugs in his body at the time of his death.
Dziekanski, who spoke only Polish, had apparently become upset after waiting for 10 hours at the airport for his mother, who was supposed to pick him up.
Customs supervisor Alexandra Curry said agents recognized the man had been in the airport for some time. She said she was aware that family members had been calling in attempts to find him.
Curry said officers even went looking for Dziekanski's family.
"They wanted to get Dziekanski on his way and united with his family," she said.
The most anticipated testimony is that of the four police officers. The inquiry was delayed while police awaited word on charges against the officers.
The province's attorney general announced last month the officers would not face charges and would testify.
The construction worker, who did not speak English, arrived in Vancouver that Oct. 14., 1997 to live with his mother in Kamloops, British Columbia.
When he became agitated, though, police were called. Within seconds of confronting him, they hit him five times with a Taser. The confrontation was caught on video by a member of the public and broadcast around the world on television and the Internet.
The RCMP maintain Dziekanski was in a state of excited delirium and suffering from alcohol withdrawal. Earlier witnesses have said Dziekanski appeared agitated but no impaired when he arrived at the airport.
Monday's witnesses said he did not seem impaired.
"There was nothing in his actions or behavior that led me to any cause for concern," customs agent Kelly McKenzie testified.
Cisowski has maintained she has been lied to repeatedly about her son's condition and the circumstances of his death
Her lawyer, Walter Kosteckyj, said Cisowski wants a full account of what happened and wants to see all agencies involved - including the RCMP, the border agency and Vancouver International Airport - take responsibility.
The first half of the inquiry, a study commission held last year, broadly examined Tasers and their use. A report from that inquiry is due out early this year.
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The second phase will focus on what happened to Dziekanski. If the evidence merits, Judge Thomas Braidwood can report misconduct.