B.C. police watchdog bars use of psychologist
Expert witness Bill Lewinski will not be used again by Police Complaints Commission
B.C.'s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner says it will never again consult a controversial expert who was the subject of a CBC News investigation.
The opinions of U.S.-based psychologist Bill Lewinski helped clear a Vancouver constable after the officer shot Paul Boyd dead in 2007. Boyd was wounded, disarmed and crawling on the ground when he was fatally shot.
CBC News found that when Lewinski is not training police or doing research, he testifies as a police expert in court.
His explanations for police-involved deaths frequently point to an officer's stress before a lethal shooting, and often touch on "inattentional blindness" — a cognitive phenomenon that can result in an observer failing to see things on which they're not focussed.
So it was with the opinion Lewinski gave the Vancouver Police Department and B.C.'s Police Complaint Commission to account for why VPD Const. Lee Chipperfield shot Paul Boyd.
Following the CBC stories, Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods indicated in an email to CBC News the Commission, "would not use Lewinski."
"I know the difficulty we have with these use-of-force opinions, they are for the most part in favour of the police and in my experience, biased towards the police," Woods wrote.
Woods’ admission surprised David Eby, Executive Director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
"I didn't think that is something I'd hear from the Police Complaint Commission's office," Eby said Thursday.
Eby says he can't understand why the Commission relied on Lewinski at all.
"We certainly agree it's the right decision not to use him again. We hope that in the future they're more careful of who they're hiring."
It appears the Commission is also looking to be more cautious.
Eby says Woods has now asked the BCCLA to submit a list of experts the Commission can draw on who are free from any police bias, real or perceived.
Eby says he never thought the Commission would accept recommendations from his group, which has been a frequent critic.
"We're glad to supply that support to the OPCC," Eby said. "We don't think it's that complicated to find an expert that's financially independent of police, has recognized qualifications, and testifies for both prosecution and defence in these matters."
Eby doesn't believe that providing a list of experts it endorses will jeopardize the Commission's independence.
"I think it's entirely appropriate the OPCC would be coming to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to ask us who we think experts should be because they are apparently accepting experts cart blanche from the police."
It's not clear how the Commission plans to use the recommendations from Eby's group.
- B.C. Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods now says he was being "sarcastic" and "facetious" when he asked the BCCLA for a list of use-of-force experts. Woods says the Commission wouldn't entirely disregard suggestions from the group, but the independent body is not genuinely interested in them.Aug 31, 2012 12:00 AM PT