Lawyers Question DA’s Expert Witness Choice In CA Police Shooting Case


Called on to investigate the fatal shooting of a toy-gun carrying 13-year-old boy by a sheriff’s deputy, Sonoma County, Ca., 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, says the San Francisco Chronicle. Lewinski, whose website describes him as “one of the nation’s foremost authorities on reaction times and shooting dynamics,” divides his time between training police officers, researching their conduct and testifying on their behalf, usually to dispute accusations of wrongful shootings.

One courtroom adversary, Pasadena attorney John Burton, who has clashed with Lewinski in two police-shooting cases, describes him as “an uncredentialed police expert who will say whatever they need to justify the situation.” In the Sonoma County case, Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Andy Lopez seven times on Oct. 22 as the teenager walked near his home, carrying a plastic AK-47 rifle, its distinctive orange tip removed by a friend. In his report, Lewinski found Gelhaus’ explanation supportable “to a high degree of scientific certainty.” The question that’s being raised is whether Ravitch 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 lawyer 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.

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