'It wasn't a friendly exchange,' says witness in Matthew Green carding case

Shahzi Bokhari says she had a gut feeling when she saw Green and two police cruisers near an overpass in the central lower city.

Shahzi Bokhari says she had a gut feeling when she saw Green and 2 police cruisers

Coun. Matthew Green speaks with his lawyer, Wade Poziomka, before a Police Services Act hearing on his complaint began Monday morning. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

​A witness in the hearing to determine whether a Hamilton police officer unlawfully stopped the city's only black politician says the exchange looked uneven and tense to her — so much that she even thought of stopping to help.

My gut was telling me to keep my eyes on it.- Shahzi Bokhari

Shahzi Bokhari says she was driving to a friend's house on that cold, windy April 26 day. While stopped at a stop sign at Stinson Street and Victoria Avenue South, she noticed two cruisers pulled off to the side, and an officer talking to a man.

Bokhari put down her windows, and as she inched closer, noticed it was Coun. Matthew Green. She also noticed the officer "shouting or speaking loudly," she told the hearing Tuesday morning.

"My gut was telling me to keep my eyes on it."

Bokhari is a police service witness in a heated disciplinary hearing to determine whether Const. Andrew Pfeifer did an "arbitrary or unjustified street check." Pfeifer is charged with discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act.

The incident happened as Green waited for a bus near the corner last April. Green says an officer questioned him for several minutes, making him feel "psychologically detained."

It wasn't a friendly interaction.- Shahzi Bokhari

Pfeifer's lawyer argues the constable was checking on Green's wellbeing, and that Green — a vocal opponent of carding and its impact on racial minorities — was aggressive and hostile off the bat.

The hearing opened Monday with testy exchanges between Green and Pfeifer's lawyer, Bernard Cummins. But Bokhari was the first eyewitness.

'It wasn't a friendly interaction'

Bokhari, who works at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, said the incident gave her pause. 

Traffic was backed up behind the two cruisers on the road, she said. She paused for as long as two minutes, and proceeded tentatively, not sure if she was supposed to pass the cruisers. She put her windows down to hear better.

That was when she heard Green and the officer talking.

"It wasn't a friendly interaction," she said.

Bokhari thought of pulling into a nearby parking lot to "offer support," she said. Instead, she drove to the next stop sign and watched in the rear-view mirror. When she got to her friend's house, she wrote down what she'd seen.

'Something was very off about it'

In cross-examination, Pfeifer's lawyer Bernard Cummins asked Bukhari how she could tell the interaction wasn't friendly.

She said his facial expression "didn't appear friendly," though she conceded she didn't tell the independent investigators that the officer was scowling.

"I can get a sense of what's a friendly interaction, versus what's not a friendly interaction," she said. "I can tell by the look on his face."

She said she didn't hear anything of what the officer said.

"I can't definitively say that it was a racially charged stop," she told Cummins. "Something was very off about it."

A moment of levity

The line of questioning led to a brief moment of levity in the tense hearing.

Cummins asked her whether a person can be friendly without smiling. To illustrate, he asked, "Am I being friendly? I'm not smiling right now."

Bukhari replied, "I don't think you want me to answer that question."

Everyone laughed.

Nothing out of the ordinary

The second witness for the day was Michael Doyle, who was walking his son home from school that afternoon. He testified and was briefly cross-examined before the hearing was adjourned for the day.

Doyle and his son were about to turn east on Stinson Street from Victoria Avenue South when a man drew their attention to the interaction taking place under the bridge. He said it was windy and rainy that day and he had his umbrella out like a shield once he turned onto Stinson.

Doyle described stopping for a few moments on the corner, and observed the cars at the four-way stop seeming to not know who should proceed first while the police cars were stopped under the bridge.

He said he didn't stay long watching the interaction between the police and the man he saw standing or leaning against the overpass, appearing to try to stay out of the wind.

"Did he look out of the ordinary to you?" said Wade Poziomka, who represents Green.

"No," Doyle replied.

"Anything to make you think he was in distress?"

"No," Doyle said again.

'Rain plus dirt equals mud?'

Earlier Tuesday, Cummins sparred with Green definition of "carding" and his comments on social media afterward.

At one point, Cummins referred to Green's "loyal followers" on social media. He also disputed whether Green was standing on dirt or grass.

"I see two shoes on a lot of dirt," he said, referencing a photo of Green standing in the location.

"I see two shoes on grass," Green replied.

"Would you agree that rain plus dirt equals mud?" Cummins said.

"In an abstract way, yes," Green responded.

Brian Duxbury is representing the Hamilton Police Service. The hearing continues Thursday, when Pfeifer is expected to testify. 

Friction between city councillors

Green has also filed an Ontario Civilian Police Commission complaint against his fellow councillor, Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster. Ferguson chairs the police services board.

Green maintains Ferguson's comments in a radio interview have compromised the service's impartiality around the incident. In the interview, Ferguson decried the "publicity and negative attention towards police."

"You know, we have the one situation, and I can't talk about it, but it involves a city councillor," Ferguson said on the Bill Kelly show. "And that's going before adjudication (a discipline hearing). But it ended up in an officer being, having charges placed against him for doing his job."

On Tuesday, Ferguson defended his words.

"I have a duty as a board chair to support the sworn and the civilian employees," he said.

As for whether it'll be harder to work with Green now, Ferguson said, "it's never been easy."