July 20, 2008 / 5:22 PM / in 9 years

RCMP defend actions after airport death

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Royal Canadian Mounted Police dismissed a report on Thursday that it may have compromised investigations into the death of a Polish immigrant during a stun gun incident at Vancouver’s airport.

<p>Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski (R) is seen in the arrivals area of the Vancouver airport in this video grab on October 14, 2007. REUTERS/Paul Pritchard/Handout</p>

The head of the RCMP privately contacted the four officers involved in the incident, a move that critics said may have conflicted with a promise to co-operate with investigations into the death, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported.

The report cited internal RCMP e-mails, which the CBC said showed the police struggled with how to respond to the wave of negative international publicity they received over the death of Robert Dziekanski in October.

Dziekanski died after police shot him with a Taser stun gun and restrained him at Vancouver airport. The incident was caught on video by another passenger and broadcast around the world.

The Mounties said on Thursday they were still committed to fully co-operating with all of the investigations into the incident, which raised public concern over the police use of Taser stun guns.

“To suggest that there is something improper about the expression of sympathy and support for all of the individuals involved in this tragic event, including the RCMP’s support for our employees, is wrong,” the Mounties said in a statement to Reuters.

The news report said the e-mails did not detail what RCMP Commissioner William Elliott told the officers when he contacted them a month after the incident, and the police statement to Reuters on Thursday did not elaborate on the conversations.

Dziekanski, 40, who was moving to Canada to join his mother, mistakenly waited for her in the baggage area rather than passing through customs to the main part of the airport.

After several hours, he was confronted by police who had been called to the baggage area by reports of an agitated man who was throwing objects.

The cause of his death has not been determined, but he died after police shot him with a Taser stun gun, which disables its victims with 50,000 volts of electricity.

A video of Dziekanski writhing and screaming on the airport floor was widely broadcast on television and shown on the Internet, drawing sharp public criticism of the police action.

Critics of the stun guns say the incident raises unanswered safety questions about the weapon, but Taser International Inc, accuses them of fear-mongering and says there is no scientific evidence the device can be fatal.

Officials from the Braidwood Inquiry, appointed by British Columbia to investigate the incident and Taser use, declined comment on Thursday on the RCMP e-mails. The report on police use of Tasers is expected by the end of November.

Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson

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