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Beware Of “Expert” Witnesses - Frontline Debriefs (permalink)

In the November issue of S.W.A.T,. I wrote of the court process in general terms. This article deals with individuals self-declared as “deadly force experts” who may very well testify against you should you employ deadly force.

Many of these individuals rely on this as a sole means of employment. They do not instruct in a hands-on manner, nor do they develop equipment or techniques to better those who wear the badge. Many have somewhat sketchy careers with little or no practical experience. Many are retired officers from departments where they worked in a purely administrative capacity and never experienced the streets to any significant degree.

Unfortunately these same individuals, who are usually paper tigers, are the very ones who will testify against you in front of the court and jury. From my experience, they will testify in any manner which the attorneys employing them ask them to testify. In many instances, the individuals I have come up against in court have committed more egregious violations of policy and deadly force application and tactics during their questionable police careers than those whom they are now directly criticizing in court.

This is not an uncommon occurrence—far from it. If one’s sole motivation is monetary gain and your integrity is somewhat suspect, then these sorts become an inevitable and foregone conclusion.

There are credible expert witnesses (a veritable handful) and there are a lot more who are not credible. If you do require the services of an expert witness, due diligence is the order of the day. It is anything but a game! Entire cases can hinge on the findings and opinions of the expert witness. It is every bit as deadly serious as the application of deadly force itself.

The stress placed upon an officer who has been accused of excessive force can be overwhelming. The process can also extend for a protracted period of time, sometimes years. The process can be bewildering, perplexing and frustrating.

The opposition may employ a media-generated controversy that portrays your actions as prejudicial or malevolent. The lawsuit itself might portray you in the same manner, with wording such as wanton disregard, unprofessional, dereliction of duty, not comporting to modern policing procedures, etc.

A good attorney will select a qualified designated expert who will make sense of all this, guide you through the process, and ensure that an appropriate and just case is presented before the courts. Everyone deserves their day in court. This is our legal process and I unequivocally agree with it, but there are those who will distort the process to serve their own means.

Most of the time, officers are trying to do the right thing. They may not possess the requisite skills for complex field problems, yet they are trying their level best to comport to the letter of the law and policies. That is disparately different than an officer who displays malicious intent or nefarious motivations. Unfortunately, the latter is precisely what many oppositional “experts” attempt to portray as the rationale for a field situation transpiring in the manner in which it did.

This very much becomes a war of semantics, interpretation and explanations between the experts. Real field experience of an expert witness over a protracted period of time is always of immense benefit when presenting the rationale for officers’ actions in the field. This will generally trump the paper-tiger expert who has accumulated scores of meaningless certificates and memberships in organizations that have little or no merit.

One point of fact that is unsettling to me is that none of these supposed “experts” do anything to improve the situation. In other words, they criticize your actions, yet they themselves do absolutely nothing of benefit in regard to the training of officers. They do not teach firearms or tactics, they do not spend any time on the range in live-fire formats, nor do they develop equipment or techniques to improve the situation. Their sole reason for existence is to criticize others who are attempting to do the right thing. These individuals have no moral compass—it is all about the money and nothing more.

It’s fine if you wish to criticize, but just what is it that you personally are doing to improve things? How can you criticize another for something you yourself have done and most probably have done to a greater degree of culpability than those you are now critiquing? Most of these individuals would not in a million years set foot on a range where they would have to personally demonstrate the theories and techniques they have stated under oath are workable and that the officers should have utilized.

The opposition can conjure up all manner of unworkable and implausible theories, yet since they don’t have to physically demonstrate these wild theories, and rather simply state them to the court, they can say anything.

It is of paramount importance that, should the need arise, you obtain the very best defense you possibly can. The press of the trigger is only the start of the process, and arguably the defense of your actions can make or break a career or department. Perform your due diligence, research your defense team, solidly prepare … and then there is the strong probability that you will prevail in the end.

Scott Reitz is a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and director of the highly acclaimed International Tactical Training Seminars. Course information and schedules are available at their website at http://www.internationaltactical.com Looki.ng Back, a free monthly newsletter, is available by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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Well the whole “I though he was going for a gun” excuse is BS.