Officer who shot Babak Saidi questioned on impact of previous incident involving police

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Babak Saidi, 43, was shot to death at the Morrisburg, Ont., OPP detachment on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. (Submitted by Elly Saidi/Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Babak Saidi, 43, was shot to death at the Morrisburg, Ont., OPP detachment on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. (Submitted by Elly Saidi/Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The police officer who fatally shot Babak Saidi told a coroner's inquest he didn't know of any serious injuries in a 2014 incident, which lawyer Paul Champ suggests affected Saidi's response during the altercation that led to his death.

Champ, who is representing Saidi's family at the inquest into the man's death, said Thursday Saidi might have feared for his life when officers touched him during the arrest attempt, ultimately leading to a physical altercation, at the Morrisburg OPP detachment on Dec. 23, 2017.

Champ was questioning Det. Const. Luc Sarao, who was a constable at the time and who previously testified he feared for his own life when he fired five shots at Saidi.

Sarao was investigated by Ontario's police watchdog, which found there were no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges.

Sarao and Const. Meghan Shay took up the assignment to arrest Saidi during one of his weekly sign-ins, a condition of a previous conviction.

'Like a switch that went off'

Sarao told the inquest they planned to bring Saidi into the detachment as they normally would during a sign-in to try to avoid escalation or surprise. Saidi co-operated until he said he wanted to tell his father about the arrest, according to Sarao.

Sarao said he offered to tell Saidi's father, but Saidi left the sign-in room and began to walk "with purpose" out of the detachment.

Shay told the inquest it was "like a switch that went off" when Sarao touched Saidi's arm to try to get him to stop. Sarao told the inquest he agreed there was a sudden change.

The inquest was shown security camera video of a rapidly escalating struggle on the ground in front of the detachment doors.

On Wednesday, Sarao explained his response to Saidi's behaviour in terms of training he received about Ontario's Use of Force Model — responding as Saidi's behaviour went from actively resisting arrest to life threatening.

Sarao said he punched Saidi after the officer was bitten on the forearm, resorted to his Taser after Saidi struck him with a police radio, then drew his gun when Saidi gained control of the Taser.

On Thursday, Champ cross-examined Sarao and suggested Saidi bit at first because he may have feared Sarao was choking him when the officer tried to bring Saidi to the ground with his arm across his chest, close to his neck.

Champ also mentioned a 2014 incident when Saidi called police to his property because he was concerned about a trespasser, but ended up being taken into custody under the Mental Health Act.

Saidi had been hospitalized in the ICU for weeks because of injuries when he was transported to hospital, Champ said.

Angelina Ouimet
Angelina Ouimet

Potential effects of 2014 arrest

Sarao said he'd reviewed the 2014 occurrence report prior to Saidi's arrest, which reportedly said Saidi had wielded a machete while in a "drug-induced psychosis," but that Saidi had not been seriously injured.

Champ said Saidi had co-operated with police when they asked him to put down the machete.

Sarao said based on his training as an OPP officer, plus additional training about mental health crises he received in 2015, he didn't perceive Saidi as exhibiting signs of mental health issues on the day of the arrest attempt.

He did say he is not a mental health expert.

The coroner's inquest has previously heard that OPP officers receive training on mental health through their annual "block training" re-certification, in the form of some of the scenarios they practise.

The inquest also heard front-line officers receive a 90-minute de-escalation lecture with a mental health component on a three-year cycle as part of that training.

They are taught to recognize signs of mental health issues such as mania, delusions, hallucination, depression and suicidality for the purposes of making an arrest under the Mental Health Act, an OPP trainer told the inquest.

Saidi's family has said he suffered from schizophrenia and hope the inquest will result in recommendations to improve how police handle people with mental health issues.

The inquest is expected to close Friday.

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