Expert in B.C. police investigation

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant felt he was unfairly portrayed in stories about his work as a behavioural scientist in the case of the shooting of a citizen by a Vancouver police officer. There was no violation of CBC journalistic policy.

COMPLAINT

Almost six years ago, Vancouver resident Paul Boyd was shot and killed by a police officer after an altercation. There were no charges brought against the officer involved, nor did he face any disciplinary action.There were a number of internal police investigations, external reviews, a coroner’s report and, after two reviews, a decision by the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch not to bring charges. In March of 2012 the Police Complaint Commissioner released the results of a finding that upheld the decision not to impose discipline on the officer involved.

Both the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and the Vancouver Police Department engaged your (Dr. William Lewinski) services for your expert opinion as part of the investigation into the Boyd incident. In May of 2012, a short video of the confrontation with the police was released, shot by a bystander who had not shared the footage until then. Paul Boyd’s family called for a new review in light of this new evidence. The Vancouver police have called in the civilian-led Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which is reviewing all the evidence and previous reports in the case. Boyd’s father also called into question the use of you, Dr. Lewinski, as an expert.

Your complaint centers around how you were portrayed in a cbcnews.ca story that dealt with Mr. Boyd’s allegations. You felt that reporter Curt Petrovich was unfair in his treatment of you: “He did not treat me with dignity, respect or fairness. His reporting was far from accurate and reflected no research of me other than quotes from attorneys who have opposed me in court.” You were not available to do an interview with him but felt that access to the website of your organization, Force Science Institute, as well as your curriculum vitae, if used properly, would have led to different conclusions. You felt relying on attorneys who opposed you in court cases where you were an expert witness was particularly unfair. You wrote:

“The court system is designed to be adversarial. In the criminal court system there are two sides; prosecution and defendant. There are two sides in the civil, -- plaintiff and defendant. Anyone testifying in court is sworn to the truth and can be charged with perjury if they attempt deception on the witness stand. Attorneys on the other hand can lie in court and out, if it serves their purpose. I had a judge, in court, inform me that was true. As long as the attorney was advocating for their client they could say anything true or false, inside or outside the court. Therefore it would be naïve to assume that anytime an attorney makes a statement that they are speaking the truth as opposed to speaking in the best interest of their current or future clients.”

You objected to a characterization, made by a lawyer who opposed you in court, that you will always justify a shooting (by a police officer). “It is my understanding that a number of force experts examined the Boyd incident and found the officer’s behavior within law and policy. I was not one of them. I never make any decisions about the validity of an officer’s use of force.” Generally you felt Mr. Petrovich took your critics’ word at face value, and did not seek out your perspective and knowledge.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Wayne Williams, News Director in Vancouver, replied that he did not agree with your characterization. He reviewed your complaints and concluded that “CBC and Mr. Petrovich acted fairly and honestly in their dealings with you and the stories we published.” He said that Petrovich had tried to contact you over a period of time and that he was very clear about the focus of his story. “It is unfortunate you were not available to speak to Mr. Petrovich before his stories were published. He made multiple requests starting three full weeks before his deadline and continued right through until the night before his story was published.” Mr. Williams also pointed out that the story carried a link to your web site and to your curriculum vitae.

He went on to explain that after the video of Paul Boyd’s shooting became public, questions were raised about the findings of the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. “You were quoted heavily in the Commissioner’s report and much was made of your expertise in these matters. Now that the case has been reopened it should not come as a surprise that your role in the original OPCC findings is also under scrutiny.” He added that while there were quotes from people critical of you in the online stories, balance was achieved by stating your accomplishments and quoting a judge who praised your work.

REVIEW

The two cbcnews.ca stories in question were prompted by the re-opening of the case of Paul Boyd, after a video of his shooting became public. In questioning the conclusions of the Vancouver police and its oversight body, Boyd’s father raised questions about the role of the analysis given by Dr. Lewinski. The video was released in May, and these stories appeared on the news web site in August. CBC News decided it would be worthwhile learning more about David Boyd’s contention that the police department and the police complaint commissioner should not have relied on your opinions. A reporter was assigned to work on the story—and since this angle was not a top priority, he worked on it sporadically. It took some months to publish, partly because of other assignments, and partly, he says, to ensure due diligence was done.

It is important to note that it was not CBC News that raised issues around you but a principal in what has become a matter of public interest and controversy. You felt this was unfair because you were not the only expert and “I never make decisions on the use of force. I am consulted about the behavioral science aspects of an incident.” In his report, the Police Complaint Commissioner, Stan Lowe, mentions another use of force expert, and references your assessment twice. He quotes your assessment in some detail. He writes:

“Additionally the VPD Major Crime Section sought an expert opinion from psychologist Dr. Bill Lewinski, the director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University. Dr. Lewinski’s expertise includes the analysis of human perception, memory and reaction time, with a focus on subject and officer movement in lethal force encounters as well as action reaction parameters (including judgment time), perception and memory.”

He then goes on to quote from your analysis for the Vancouver police:

“The judgments made by PC Chipperfield in this incident, which was over in a very brief time, were performed in a way that was logically consistent with his perception of the reality of this incident, consistent with his previous training and experience, and consistent with the research and knowledge on how humans perform under stress. His behavior was characteristic of a well- trained officer who was acting reasonable from a psychological perspective and performing as trained in this type of circumstance.”

Mr. Lowe’s office engaged you as well to help him in the final review of the case. He asked you to review some transcripts from a coroner’s inquest to see if the new evidence would change the assessment. He quotes you again to validate the finding.

Given the prominence accorded your work, and it being called into question by the father of the victim, it is well within journalistic practice to seek out opinions of people with some expertise and with some knowledge of your work. That is what the news pieces did.

The Journalistic Standards and Practices calls for accuracy, which it defines in this way:

We seek out the truth in all matters of public interest. We invest our time and our skills to learn, understand and clearly explain the facts to our audience. The production techniques we use serve to present the content in a clear and accessible manner.

And this is what it says about Balance:

We contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion. Our content on all platforms presents a wide range of subject matter and views.

On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.

In this case two of the three people quoted were lawyers who had opposed you in court. The third was a psychologist with appropriate expertise. Had the stories failed to explain the lawyers’ relationship to you and not been clear about their perspective, they would violate standards. But the fact that they disagree with you doesn’t inherently disqualify them. In these stories, the background and position of the lawyers is clearly spelled out. Furthermore, balance dictates that opposing views be presented as well. While the piece talks about a judge that barred you from testifying because he felt your work lacked “scientific foundation,” it also quotes another judge who cited your “extensive 40 years of experience domestically and abroad” and stated that your explanations “were helpful to the jury.” The piece also notes that you are “frequently sought after by U.S. police forces and that you have been recognized as “an expert in reaction, perception and memory by a number of state and federal courts in the U.S.”

Given all this, it is puzzling that you fault Mr. Petrovich’s use of the c-v you provided him. He did seek further clarification and let you know he wanted your perspective on the criticism being levelled against you. It is a challenge for reporters seeking to achieve balance when the person involved, for whatever valid reason, declines to be interviewed. To drop the story at that point would provide a veto to any principal in a story he or she chooses not to comment on. The challenge becomes how to compensate to create as full a picture as possible. I believe the reporter did so, given the constraints he was working under. The story dealing with the controversy over your work in the context of the Paul Boyd case provided both criticism and support for your role in the field. There was no violation of CBC journalistic policy.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman