Pair of officers should've been enough in Babak Saidi arrest, inquest hears

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

The sergeant on duty the day an eastern Ontario man was fatally shot during an attempted arrest at the Ontario Provincial Police detachment in Morrisburg, Ont., told the inquest into his death that two officers should've been enough to handle him.

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

Ontario's police watchdog investigated and found there were no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges against the officer who shot Saidi.

On Friday, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry OPP Sgt. Charlene Davidson told the inquest she still believes the two general patrol officers working that day should've been able to execute the plan for Saidi's arrest.

When pressed by Prabhu Rajan, the inquest's counsel, about what went wrong, Davidson pointed to Saidi's behaviour — specifically, that he became so combative when he left the detachment after being told he was arrested.

The inquest has heard that Saidi told the officers he wanted to inform his father, who was parked outside, of his arrest. In the ensuing scuffle, Saidi was shot five times.

Supplied
Supplied

Davidson told the inquest she'd learned Saidi was to be arrested by "at least two officers," and said she'd been warned in an email from a constable that he was violent and didn't like police.

She said she spoke to that constable and trusted the judgment of her colleagues — including Sgt. Dave Budzinski, who testified earlier this week — that an arrest at the detachment would be appropriate.

Davidson said she wasn't at the detachment that morning, as she was attending a wake for a Hydro One worker who'd died in a helicopter crash. She said she advised the officers on her shift to check the cautions on Saidi's file and read the description of the complaint that led to the arrest: that he had threatened a woman with a knife after she left a flyer at his property.

Stationing a third officer at the door of the detachment's lobby, Davidson said, may not have prevented Saidi's death and could have resulted in an officer being caught in the crossfire.

Davidson also pushed back on Rajan's suggestion that the mandates of the OPP's emergency response team or its tactics and rescue unit could be adjusted so that they're involved when police try to arrest someone with a history of violent behaviour.

She said if that were made a policy, it would render general patrol officers useless.

"If we're not capable and competent to affect an arrest on a dangerous person, why are we out there?" she said.

'More responsibility' for mental health issues, officer says

Though Davidson didn't provide a suggestion for how the OPP could do a better job in handling people in mental distress, she did say she would support a recommendation for more medical and social support in the community.

She said police have had "more responsibility" for people with severe mental health issues who are living in the community because of "de-institutionalization" over the course of her 28-year career.

Paul Champ, the lawyer representing the Saidi family, asked Davidson about her training in dealing with mental health issues.

While she echoed Budzinski's testimony that it was integrated into OPP recertification training scenarios, Davidson said she didn't have a specific recollection, nor did she remember the specific 2012 module listed on her training record.

Angelina Ouimet
Angelina Ouimet

Davidson said she has attended sessions run by social agencies in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry that address mental health concerns, but that training isn't widely received by officers.

During his testimony, Budzinski could not recall any specific mental health training courses or modules, either from 2017 or in the last year.

The coroner's inquest is charged with finding recommendations to improve how police handle arrests of people who are potentially violent or have mental health issues. It's scheduled to continue next week.

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