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Sirens & Gavels

Judge blasts latest dispute in Zehm case

U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle apparently has grown weary of the continuing admissibility battles between the prosecution and defense in Officer Karl Thompson's excessive force trial.

"I don't recall spending as much time pre-trial on any criminal case I've ever tried, and I've been doing them for 35 years," the judge declared outside the presence of the jury Monday during a clash over the qualifications of a defense witness.

The witness, William Lewinski, is a self-described expert in the field of police psychology who routinely testifies in favor of law enforcement in cases of excessive force.

He formerly taught what he calls police psychology at the University of Minnesota-Mankato and now focuses on research that shows police officers often have fractured memories of stressful events and typically won't remember the encounters in proper sequence.

The defense is using the research to help argue against the charge that Thompson lied to investigators.

Prosecutors sought unsuccessfully to bar Lewinski from testifying as an "expert" witnesss, calling into question his methods and training.

John Drake, a legal intern at the U.S. attorney's office in Spokane, said he reviewed Lewinski's credentials with Lisa Fornier, an associate professor of psychology at Washington State University.

"It's fair to say Dr. Fornier's initial reaction were shock and disbelief to claims made by Dr. lewisinski," Drake said. "It's lacking in the most basic" scientific research methodology.

But Van Sickle said that ground had already been plowed when he previously ruled that Lewinski was qualified to testify as an expert.

During cross examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin pointed out that Lewinski is not licensed to work as a psychologist and that police psychology isn't even a recognized field by the American Pyschology Association.

Lewinski - who charges a $3,800 retainer fee, $475 hourly rate and $3,500 to testify for four hours - said he has interviewed more than 1,200 officers who have been involved in deadly force situations.

Durkin asked Lewinski if he ever has testified that an officer was unjustified in using deadly force. "That's not my area," Lewinski said.

"I don't make legal decisions."

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