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Expert witness in toy-gun case has history of siding with police

Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, July 11, 2014
07-11 1715 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Called on to investigate the fatal shooting of atoy-gun carrying 13-year-old boy by a sheriff's deputy, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch chose a consultant she described as "an independent, outside expert on human performance in high-stress encounters, such as officer-involved shootings." One quality of William Lewinski that Ravitch didn't mention was his reliability to side with police. ... The question that's now being raised is whether Ravitch, the district attorney, was trying to stack the deck with her choice of consultants. "He's an opportunist who will say whatever is expedient to get the cop off, so why in the world would any reputable district attorney's office rely on someone like him" asked Oakland attorney Michael Haddad, who tangled with Lewinski over a 2000 police shooting in Oakland. Haddad is president of the National Police Accountability Project, a group of lawyers who sue police, often with the aid of their own experts. ... Lewinski's shoot-first doctrine led to what he described as a major victory in the case of Anthony Dwain Lee, a Hollywood actor who was fatally shot in the back by a Los Angeles police officer at a Halloween party in 2000 after showing up in costume and pulling out a real-looking toy gun. After Lewinski's research on reaction times showed that the officer could have been acting in self-defense, he said on his website, the family's $100 million suit against the officer and the Los Angeles Police Department was settled for $225,000. But there have also been defeats, like the case of Willie Wilkins, an undercover Oakland police officer shot to death by fellow officers as he tried to arrest a suspect in 2001. Lewinski, hired as an expert by the city in a damage suit by Wilkins' family, cast doubt on the testimony of other officers who claimed to have heard Wilkins identify himself before he was shot. Stress, he asserted, may have confused them or clouded their memories.Haddad, the family's lawyer, challenged Lewinski at a lengthy deposition and said thewitness wound up admitting that his confusion-under-stress theory would apply equally to the officers who fired the fatal shots. The city settled the suit for $3.5 million. Lewinski is "charming," Haddad said in a recent interview, but "his opinions can be pretty flaky."

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