Anthony Heffernan's family 'outraged' to learn use of force expert connected to controversial institute

The use of force expert whose opinion led to the decision not to lay charges against a Calgary police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man is connected to an institute run by a controversial police psychologist who has only ever testified in support of officers.

Chris Lawrence connected to Bill Lewinski's Force Science Institute

Anthony Heffernan was shot by police at a motel in northeast Calgary. (Submitted by family)

The use of force expert whose opinion heavily contributed to the decision not to lay charges against a Calgary police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man is connected to an institute run by a controversial police psychologist who has only ever testified in support of officers.

"We are very outraged," said Pat Heffernan. "That's very biased."

Chris Lawrence, who has been qualified as an expert in police use of force techniques and teaches at the Ontario Police College and the Force Science Institute, prepared a report for the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) and the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) regarding Anthony Heffernan's 2015 death.

In its press release earlier this week, ACPS said Lawrence's report weighed heavily in its decision not to lay charges against the officer who shot Anthony Heffernan.

"I believe I was objective," Lawrence told CBC News.

Heffernan, 27, was shot during a confrontation on March 16, 2015. Police went to the Super 8 motel on Barlow Trail to investigate reports that a guest, who was due to check out, was behaving strangely and not leaving his room. 

Susan Hughson, executive director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, pictured here in 2016, spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon about the organization's findings from their investigation into a 2017 fatal police shooting. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

High on cocaine at the time, Heffernan was agitated and holding a syringe when officers arrived, according to ASIRT.

Police witnesses told investigators they feared the syringe would put them at risk of exposure to a blood-borne infection. It turned out the insulin syringe he was holding had no needle tip.

The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service concluded there was no reasonable likelihood of convicting the officer who shot at Heffernan six times, striking him four times. 

The entire exchange in the motel room lasted 72 seconds.

Sammy Yatim expert requested 

ASIRT did recommend charges when it handed the case over to the Crown, according to director Susan Hughson.

The Heffernan family and their lawyer say they were told the charges recommended were second-degree murder, manslaughter or criminal negligence causing death.

But after reviewing ASIRT's findings, the Crown asked the investigative body to obtain a use of force expert to provide an opinion on whether the deadly shooting was justified.

The family asked ASIRT to use Robert Warshaw, who testified at the Sammy Yatim case

Anthony's father Pat Heffernan said 'There is no justice in this case,' after the officer who killed his son was cleared Monday. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Warshaw has testified in hundreds of cases and served as chief of police in Rochester, N.Y., and Statesville, N.C.

He was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1998 and helped to found a group that advises police departments on issues like race relations and the excessive use of force. 

"We had asked they use Warshaw," said Pat Heffernan. "At that time, [Hughson] said they would pick the expert."

Pat Heffernan says he then asked Hughson to use two experts but was told that wasn't an option.

"[Warshaw] is exactly the type of expert you're looking for; he has been appointed by government and police services to monitor use of force so he is extremely well qualified," said Heffernan family lawyer Tom Engel.

"I have no idea how Ms. Hughson would justify not consulting with him."

But Engel says Hughson told the family that she didn't want to use Warshaw because "he said some unreasonable things in [the Sammy Yatim] case."

ASIRT refuses to release report

Instead, Chris Lawrence was contacted and asked to provide a report that, in the end, weighed heavily in the Crown's decision not to lay charges against the officer.

"The report was obtained and found that the subject officer's response could be justified," wrote the ACPS in a press release.

"The Crown would be unable to prove that the subject officer did not have reasonable grounds for believing that the force used was necessary."

CBC News tried to obtain a copy of Lawrence's report but ASIRT says it "will not release investigative materials."

In an online biography, Lawrence — whose primary employer is the Ontario Police College — is listed as the technical advisor to the Force Science Research Centre. The centre describes him as "a faculty member for the Force Science certification course."

The centre's director, Bill Lewinski, is a controversial American-based "police psychologist" who has testified in more than 70 cases in the U.S. as well as several cases in Alberta.

'The alarm bells went off'

Lewinski's critics say he is a "professional witness" who provides testimony in support of officers accused of wrongful shootings. 

In 2012, after a CBC Vancouver investigation raised questions about Lewinski's credentials and the objectivity of his expert testimony, the B.C. Police Complaints commission said it would never again use Lewinski as an expert.

Engel says Lewinski has only ever testified in support of police.

"The alarm bells went off," said Engel. "This is Bill Lewinski's creation, this Force Science Institute, and he has been discredited in Canada and in the United States and he is nothing more than a hired gun for the police.

"As soon as I heard that this guy was a disciple of Lewinski and worked at that Force Science Institute, I have some grave concerns about how it came to be that ASIRT selected this person to be the expert. Because I would say, if he's anything like Lewinski, he's biased and he's a hired gun."

The use of force expert used to provide an opinion on the Anthony Heffernan case is affiliated with Bill Lewinski's Force Science Institute. (

That allegation is strongly contested by Lawrence.

"When I've seen something that I believe to be unlawful, I've said so," said Lawrence. 

He says of the approximate 60 times he has given evidence, he estimates three were against the officer in question and there are numerous times he was rejected as an expert because he did not provide the desired opinion. 

Lawrence says he has also assisted in a successful prosecution against a police officer.

And unlike Lewinski, whose 2008 fee schedule showed he charged $475 an hour to write reports, Lawrence says he was not paid for his report and the work he did was independent of both the Ontario Police College and the Force Science Institute.

'It looks like you're expert shopping'

It appears, according to Engel, that ASIRT and the Crown went looking for a way to justify the officer's actions.

"That's how something like this looks," said Engel. "When you reject a highly-qualified expert, you don't even go to him ... and then you go to a guy who is at this Force Science Institute. It looks like you're expert shopping."

The Heffernans agree.

"[We] feel they went out of their way to clear officer," said Pat Heffernan.

The plan is to write letters to the Crown, ASIRT and Calgary's chief of police, says Engel. 

"They need to have another look at this and they need to get a credible expert to provide an opinion," said Engel. "It is completely unacceptable that they would use somebody like this."

The matter is far from concluded. An internal CPS investigation into the officer's actions is underway and he could still be prosecuted under the Police Act. 

As with all officer-involved shootings, there will be a fatality inquiry. And Engel has indicated the Heffernans plan to sue CPS and the officers who responded to the motel room.

ASIRT would not comment on the decision to select Lawrence as its expert.

Wtih files from Charles Rusnell