VANCOUVER — The British Columbia Appeal Court has tossed out a bid by prosecutors to overturn a not-guilty verdict in the case of a Mountie accused of lying to the public inquiry into Robert Dziekanski’s death.
The decision brings relief for Const. Bill Bentley, who said on Friday that he’s happy his years-long court battle appears to be over.
Bentley was among four officers who confronted Dziekanski at Vancouver’s airport in October 2007, when the Polish immigrant was stunned with a Taser and died.
All four officers were charged with perjury for allegedly colluding and giving false testimony at a subsequent public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death.
The Crown’s case, based on circumstantial evidence, alleged the officers concocted the story to first tell investigators and then lied at the public inquiry to cover it up.
Each officer was tried separately, resulting in two convictions and two acquittals.
A judge acquitted Bentley in July 2013, ruling that there could have been other innocent reasons for similarities in the officers’ statements.
The Crown appealed the decision, saying the judge failed to consider all the relevant evidence and didn’t take into account the elements of perjury.
In a unanimous ruling, the three-judge panel upheld Bentley’s not-guilty verdict, ruling there was no error in a judge’s decision of reasonable doubt.
The Crown recognizes a reasonable doubt may arise from an absence of evidence, Justice Anne MacKenzie said in the written decision.
It’s only where reasonable doubt is tainted by a legal error that an appeal would be permitted, she wrote.
“I see no error in the judge’s approach to the evidence,” MacKenzie wrote. “The fact that a different judge might have reached a different conclusion does not mean this judge was wrong in the law.”
MacKenzie wrote that it was not the appeal court’s job to “reweigh or reinterpret” the evidence.
The public inquiry and subsequent court cases began after the officers confronted Dziekanski, a Polish man who didn’t speak English and who had been at the airport for 10 hours. He had been throwing furniture in the international arrivals’ area of the airport terminal.
Bystanders’ video showed that within seconds of arriving the officers surrounded the man and then jolted him with a Taser several times.
The officers all told the public inquiry that Dziekanski picked up a stapler and posed a threat. They were charged two years after their testimony.
Bentley and Const. Gerry Rundel were both acquitted of the perjury charge, but Const. Kwesi Millington and former officer Benjamin “Monty” Robinson were both convicted for their testimony.
Millington is scheduled to be sentenced later this month, and his lawyers have told the judge they plan to file an appeal once the sentencing decision is handed down.
After Rundel was acquitted, he released a statement thanking the judge for seeing the truth, and saying the Crown should not have been able to go ahead with the case after a 2010 review seemed to clear all four men of collusion.
Outside of court on Friday, Bentley said he would love to talk about his case but was concerned doing so might jeopardize his position on the force.
“I don’t want to risk my job,” Bentley said. “I’m just happy it’s over.”
Bentley’s lawyer Peter Wilson said he would speak to the Crown about whether they will pursue another appeal.
“I’m hopeful it’s the end of the line at this point,” Wilson said. “It’s been a long time, years and years for Const. Bentley.”
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press