Showing posts with label Curt Petrovich. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Curt Petrovich. Show all posts

Friday, November 16, 2018

Blamed and Broken by Curt Petrovich

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

As the subtitle "The Mounties and the Death of Robert Dziekanski" might suggest, this was a curiously-biased report of a fatal Taser™ incident which took place in October 2007 at the Vancouver International Airport in Canada, where four Royal Canadian Mounted Police confronted a Polish immigrant named Robert Dziekański, who spoke no English, and who was obviously frustrated and angry, but who had not hurt anyone and was threatening no one.

According to Goodreads (and this may be in error since Goodreads librarians are listed under 'useless' in the dictionary) the book is also titled Twenty-Six Seconds: A Fateful Decision. A Dead Man. A Decade of Cover-Up, so that ought to tell you something about how sensationalist the book is. Talking of Goodreads librarians, the book is listed as" Blamaed and Broken" so Goodreads' crappy search engine will never find this. You have to search by author name to get to it. This is one good reason why I quit posting reviews to Goodreads. It's about what I expect from something that has been stained by Amazon.

Let me say up front that it's far easier to make judgments on the sidelines and after the fact than it is when you're directly involved and in the middle of something as it happens, but from all I've read and seen, including the poorly-shot and misinformed video available on You Tube, Dziekański was far more defensively postured than ever he was aggressively so. He didn't offer anything like aggression until he was tasered, and even then he was not trying to harm anyone. He was clearly reacting in pain. The trigger for the tasering was after he turned around on the mounties with a stapler in his hand, and it all went sideways.

At this point he was repeatedly tasered, and when handcuffed and on the ground Dziekanski became increasingly physiologically distressed. He was denied airport medical treatment and got none until external medical services arrived. The RCMP officers initially refused to remove handcuffs when requested to do so by the EMTs, and when the cuffs were removed and the EMTs began working on the guy, he was found to be already dead. The video is misleading because there is a male voice on it repeatedly offering misinformation - such as declaring that the guy speaks Russian when he was speaking Polish. Clearly the commentator did not know this, but that's my point: don't declare something to be so out of ignorance. The voice asks, "How is he still fighting them off" when the guy is clearly lying subdued on the floor, and barely moving.

After Dziekański's death, the entire RCMP organization retreated behind a wall of 'we followed procedures' and 'we were just doing our job,' but it seemed obvious that they mishandled this situation and over-reacted, and presented a very poor face to the public afterwards, despite a phenomenal outcry that demanded contrition and an explanation.

No one in their right mind can deny that any law-enforcement officer has a difficult job to do and it's rarely in ideal conditions, but in these circumstances where the guy was not armed (unless you class a small stapler as a weapon, which they did), and was not attacking anyone, and with whom they could not communicate effectively, and given there were four trained RCMP officers present who had the guy confined if not restrained, the mismanagement was appalling in my opinion. They had time, for example, to call in an EMT to be on standby if they had already considered use of a taser - which they had, yet they delayed calling EMT help despite obvious signs of distress from the subdued Dziekański and initially denied them clear access to the guy even after they showed up.

Despite all of this, the author is writing from the outset as though he has already decided to come down on the side of the police regardless of the facts, and everything he's doing is biasing the story that way. Instead of reporting dispassionately, he uses loaded language repeatedly, for example, at one point he wrote of the pressure on the four officers in the aftermath, "Each moment is a separate car in a freight train bearing down on them." Seriously? I about barfed when I read that line. Yes, they were under stress and doubtlessly felt bad about what happened, but let's not get carried away. Not one of them felt as bad as Dziekanski's mother did, who was initially told that her son was nowhere to be found in the airport, and then was called back later to be told he was dead?

The endless and rather repetitive details quickly became tedious, removing any sort of satisfaction in the reading, but I also found some interesting omissions. It's an oddity for example, that the incident with Robert Dziekanski which took place in October, 2007 was kept in complete isolation by the author. In November that year there were two more deaths in Canada from Taser incidents with police, and there was yet another one in December. Halfway through the book, when he was well into the inquest on these events several months after the fact, the author hadn't mentioned even one of these other incidents. Out of curiosity, I searched the entire book for the three names of the people involved, and not one of them is mentioned. I wonder why? For the record they are: Howard Hyde, who was hit with a Taser up to five times about 30 hours before he died, Robert Knipstrom, and the exotically-named Quilem Registre; all tasered by law-enforcement, all dead.

One of the officers in the Dziekański case was later involved in a drunk-driving incident in which he deliberately tried to hide the fact of his drinking. He turned left in front of an oncoming motorcycle which he apparently did not see. The author describes the collision as occurring at "as much as ninety-six kilometres (sixty miles) an hour," but it may also have been as low as 66 KPH (40 miles per hour) which is still a deadly speed, especially on a motorcycle. Robinson was neither charged with drunk driving, nor with causing a fatal accident, and got away with barely more than a slap on the wrist. The news reports of this incident say that the officer took his two children away from the scene to his mother's house nearby, before returning to the scene having apparently had one or two shots of vodka, but this book seems to suggest he left the twelve-year-old girl and the nine-year-old boy home alone after they had been traumatized by being in the vehicle at the time of the accident. I don't know which version is more accurate.

At one point the author writes, "Dziekanski's actual habits when it came to alcohol and cigarettes are relevant." but earlier he had reported on the autopsy: "no drugs or alcohol were found in Dziekanski's blood." Case closed! Oh, you can argue that if he was addicted to tobacco and/or alcohol and could not get any, then he might experience some sort of withdrawal, and react badly to that, but these things could be established from his autopsy (did his body show signs of alcohol or tobacco abuse?) and from his behavior at the time which was documented on a video shot by a bystander. I saw nothing written about that. The impression I got was that this author was simply knee-jerk reacting to news reports and going off on one tangent after another like a ball ricocheting off bumpers in a pinball game. By some fifty percent of the way through, he is so all-over-the-place that I completely lost interest in the book and couldn't stand to read any more.

I can't commend this as a worthy read. In my opinion it needs some real editing and trimming. It also needs better organizing, the book is back and forth so much. At one point I read, "Underneath his deliberately cool exterior he is one part angry, one part nervous, and ninety-nine parts certain his time in the witness chair is not going to end well." That adds up to 101 parts. That's one part too many to make rational sense, and is emblematic of this book.