Videotaping the last moments of a Polish immigrant's life, Paul Pritchard thought the police were 100 percent right to use a Taser stun gun to subdue the man.
That was a month ago, before the police returned the videotape they borrowed from Pritchard, a Canadian who had filmed Robert Dziekanski's death.
Now that Pritchard has watched his own tape — and no longer believes Dziekanski posed any threat of violence — he condemns the police use of a stun gun just 46 seconds after confronting Dziekanski at the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"At the time I thought it was the right thing," Pritchard said Friday. "I thought it was more of a standoff, but it wasn't. It wasn't like that at all."
A coroner's inquest has been called and police have launched an investigation. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have said they are reviewing Taser use; 18 people have died in Canada after being hit with a Taser in the last four years.
Man's first flight ends tragically
Dziekanski, 40, of Gliwice, Poland, arrived at the airport Oct. 14. It was his first flight, and was to be the start of a new life with his mother in western Canada.
But Dziekanski, who spoke only Polish, began acting erratically at the airport. He apparently became upset when he didn't see his mother in the secure baggage area — which she was not allowed to enter.
She had told him to wait for her there, and he did, for about 10 hours. When she could not find anyone to help her get to the secure area, and he did not emerge, she thought he had missed his flight and she left the airport.
Pritchard pulled out his camera after watching Dziekanski pace back and forth. Dziekanski threw a computer to the ground, and he lined up chairs, a small wooden table and a clipboard along glass doors that separated the secure zone from the public waiting area.
"He was acting erratically," said Pritchard. "I saw what I saw, but I didn't realize the seriousness until I got the footage back. He wasn't acting violent in any way. That's what is most disturbing."
Robert Szaniawski, a spokesman for Poland's Foreign Ministry, said Poland has asked Canada for an explanation of Dziekanski's death.
"We believe that the use of Taser on Mr. Dziekanski was excessively brutal and unjustified," Szaniawski said. "No attempts were made to use other means to solve the situation but from the very start the toughest means available to the police was used. We want the matter clarified and we want those guilty named and prosecuted."
Content of video
The video shows:
- Dziekanski acting confused for several minutes before four police officers arrive and vault over a railing and confront an agitated Dziekanski behind the glass doors. Loud cries of what sound like "polizia," can be heard as the officers are told by someone that the man only speaks Russian.
- The officers stand before him and Dziekanski throws his hands in the air and walks away, and the officers follow, apparently indicating he should put his hands on a desk top. Dziekanski stands with his back to the counter and the officers surround him before they use a Taser stun gun on him and he falls, screaming in pain.
- A voice is heard yelling, "Hit him again, hit him again." The four officers clamber on top of him, restraining his arms and his head, as Dziekanski twitches. Finally, he is still.
Pritchard turned over the video to police that day and was told he would get it back within 48 hours. When police later refused he hired a lawyer. He got it back on Wednesday following a court order.
Pritchard said police told him they didn't want the video to taint potential witness testimony. Pritchard didn't believe it.
"There's obviously something that they didn't want the public to see which is why we took the steps to get it," Pritchard said by telephone from New York City.
Police Cpl. Dale Carr said the video is just one small piece of evidence. "Although the video is compelling and does demonstrate a great deal of what went on there, it's only one piece of evidence," said Carr.
"There are a number of other witnesses that have an account and we are interested in getting to the bottom of it," he said. "We want people to make judgment on the totality of all of the evidence and that will be shared at the inquest."