Officers stand by plan to arrest Babak Saidi at OPP detachment, inquest hears

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Babak Saidi's family says he suffered from mental health issues, including addiction and schizophrenia prior to his 2017 death. (Supplied - image credit)
Babak Saidi's family says he suffered from mental health issues, including addiction and schizophrenia prior to his 2017 death. (Supplied - image credit)

The police sergeants testifying at the coroner's inquest into Babak Saidi's fatal shooting say more information about the eastern Ontario man's history with police would not have changed how they planned to arrest him.

Saidi, 43, died at the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment in Morrisburg, Ont., on Dec. 23, 2017, after an attempted arrest during his mandatory weekly check-in — a condition of a 2014 conviction.

Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry OPP Sgt. Dave Budzinski told the inquest Thursday he stood by his assessment that Saidi posed a threat to officers making an arrest.

He said this risk was especially high if they obtained a warrant to enter his rural home.

Budzinski helped plan Saidi's arrest following a Dec. 20, 2017 complaint from a woman who alleged he threatened her with a knife after she left a flyer in his mailbox.

Following an investigation that included talking to Saidi's mother and housekeeper, Budzinski said he concluded the knife threat was an "outright criminal act" by someone who'd shown volatile behaviour before when people approached his property.

The sergeant said Saidi had past issues with bylaw officers and neighbours on his property.

He also noted police were familiar with Saidi because of a 2014 incident where he brandished a machete, approached an officer, but dropped it on his own. Budzinski said Saidi also bit an officer and hurt himself in the back of the police vehicle on his way to hospital.

Police had narrow view, family lawyer suggests

Paul Champ, the lawyer for the Saidi family, raised the question of whether Budzinski's interpretation of Saidi's actions as criminal narrowed what he considered possible as a response.

Champ said details from a report on the 2014 incident may have shed a different light on Saidi's motivation.

The inquest heard Saidi called police to his property because he was concerned about an intruder and dropped the machete when confronted by police. He was also described as paranoid in the document.

Champ asked whether deescalation techniques used in other mental health calls could have been used for this arrest.

He also raised the possibility Saidi could have been surprised to hear of the new charge.

Budzinski said he couldn't rule out Saidi being surprised by his arrest. However, he maintained it was likely Saidi suspected he might be arrested over the knife incident.

Angelina Ouimet
Angelina Ouimet

The officer said informing Saidi of his impending arrest risked Saidi barricading himself on his property or arming himself. He said there were benefits to Saidi coming into the detachment — the OPP's "turf," where they could control more of the situation.

He said the arrest didn't seem unusual at the time and only seems so now because of the outcome.

"It still doesn't make any sense to me," Budzinski said.

After Saidi was informed of new charges against him, a scuffle ensuedat the detachment during which an officer fired several shots, killing Saidi.

Arrest attempt at Alcoholics Anonymous

Three days before the attempted arrest at the detachment, Budzinski said police tried to arrest Saidi on the day of the complaint, when he was scheduled to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Police used a web search to find an AA meeting in Morrisburg, which they went to, but Saidi attended those meetings in Brockville, the inquest heard.

Inquest counsel Uko Abara shared part of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry OPP Crime Abatement Strategy file on Saidi that showed where and when Saidi attended AA.

Budzinski said he didn't know that information at the time and isn't certain he'd have had access to that particular document.

He also told the inquest he didn't know Saidi had daily phone check-ins with the OPP as part of his release conditions.

Budzinski was not on shift for either of the arrest attempts and said he had a limited direct role in their execution or the assigning of officers.

Sgt. Charlene Davidson, who was on duty the day Saidi died, started her evidence late Thursday.

"I wish there was something I could've or should've done differently, but I don't feel that right now," Davidson told the inquest when asked for her reflections on the incident.

The coroner's inquest is not charged with finding fault, but preparing recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future. It continues Friday.

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