Police officers lying like a rug

An interesting article in the Vancouver Sun argues that the police — RCMP officers — were wildly mistaken in their accounts of a crisis event. Naturally, their account put them in a better light than the alternative record:  a videotape recorded by a private citizen at the scene.

Is it possible that the officers colluded with one another to deliberately falsify their report?

I once witnessed an incident involving police on a street here in Ottawa. I intervened when perhaps I shouldn’t have. I wasn’t shocked, but nonetheless troubled, when I later learned that the Ottawa constables had lied about the series of events.

The Sun article concerns the tazering death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport. (Dziekanski’s death was previously discussed by nebcanuck here and here.) In the Sun, Ian Mulgrew reports:

Const. Kwesi Millington, the 32-year-old who unleashed the Taser, continued Tuesday to acknowledge his version of events was completely at odds with an amateur video recording of the encounter.

Millington was wrong on the number of times he deployed the weapon. He mistakenly described Dziekanski as being agitated and wildly swinging a stapler. He falsely said Dziekanski had to be wrestled to the ground by all four officers.

He did not issue the standard warning: “Police. Stop or you’ll be hit with 50,000 volts of electricity.” He said that during the one-second pause between the first and second discharge of the Taser, he “reassessed” the situation before deploying the weapon again.

However, Millington said Dziekanski was still standing when he jolted him the second time, when the video shows definitively that the first blast left the middle-aged man writhing in pain on the airport floor.

Millington then did not follow proper procedures for recording his use of the Taser; when he finally did fill in the required report, his account was staggeringly skewed. […]

His colleagues who testified earlier — Const. Bill Bentley and Const. Gerry Rundel — made similar fundamental mistakes in their notes and statements. […]

The officers maintain they haven’t discussed the events with each other, even though they were allowed to return and spend time together at the detachment after the Tasering. As well, two weeks later, they met for a so-called “critical incident debriefing.” […]

The suggestions of collusion are disturbing and it’s difficult to understand why the RCMP would have allowed the officers to be alone together after Dziekanski’s death. The optics are dreadful.

Police covering each others’ asses after a public relations disaster? What are the odds of that?

The incident that troubled me involved the use of force by police officers on a woman. The police had arrested her male companion; he was already in a police car when I arrived on the scene.

One officer was speaking to the woman. As I came walking by, the officer turned his back to the woman and began to walk away.

She spit in the direction of his back.

I suppose he heard the sound she made. In any event, he immediately rushed back in her direction, grabbed her arm, spun her around, threw her down on the sidewalk, and landed on her back with his knee, with considerable force. (Though I’m sure the force was measured, or he would have seriously injured her.)

I won’t get into the details of how I responded except to say that I thought the officer’s response was excessive. Later, I filed a report at the local police station.

Later still, I was invited to the police station to give my account of events. And I was told that the woman had spit in the face of the officer. Now that’s quite a trick — spitting in someone’s face when his back is toward you. But all the officers agreed, that was exactly what had happened.

Let’s face it, this sort of thing goes on all the time. People who are members of the underclass are easy targets for cops.

I’m not naive. I understand that these same people — people I have just described as members of the underclass — create a lot of trouble for the police and the community.

Still, police officers aren’t supposed to employ force in defence of their fragile male egos. A cop shouldn’t throw someone down on the sidewalk and drop onto her back just because he’s pissed off at her.

If he does, other cops will rush to protect his reputation. You can bet on it.

The incident that I witnessed was small potatoes. The sort of minor injustice that occurs everyday — sometimes at the hands of a person in a position of authority.

Mr. Dziekanski’s confrontation with the RCMP resulted in his death. That’s a much bigger deal.

But the general principle is the same. Cops sometimes use excessive force. And when they do, other cops will spring to their defence.

In the Youtube era, the officers might be shocked to learn that their version of events has been contradicted by video evidence. Which constitutes one small victory for justice — as nebcanuck pointed out in his original comment on this story.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dave
    Mar 06, 2009 @ 00:00:51

    Can you Imagine how different this story would be If the cop was white and the victim was not, there would be riots and protests about racism.

    Reply

  2. Bill
    Mar 06, 2009 @ 09:51:46

    Dave I don’t agree, for a large part Canada does not share that kind of mentality, except in some areas of very large cities, and I hazard a guess that this type of response is caught as a virus from our neighbours to the south. That said there should be riots when this sort of abuse of authority happens Canadians can be too forgiving of authority at times.

    Reply

  3. Stephen
    Mar 06, 2009 @ 14:57:46

    Bill is mostly right about Canada, although there have been some tensions in the city of Toronto between the black community and the police. I’m not aware of any similar tensions in Vancouver.

    Still, I think Dave proposes an interesting thought experiment. If police repeatedly tazered a visible minority, even after he was lying on the floor writhing in pain — wouldn’t the public wonder if racism was a factor? You might not see riots, but you might see the beginnings of a narrative that the police force is systemically racist.

    Reply

  4. Rev Dave
    Mar 09, 2009 @ 13:06:24

    Of course, the tragic irony is that even the Dziekanski incident would have escaped total notice if the camera holder in question, from Victoria, hadn’t had the guts to go to court to get his camera back from the police. (It had, predictably, been seized after the incident, and police initially refused to return the film of the events at the airport.)

    Reply

  5. batteredbypd
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 03:20:19

    Thanks for this post…..I know all about LYING OFFICERS!!!

    http://batteredbypd.wordpress.com

    Cherise

    Reply

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