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Coroner’s inquest hears Ottawa man fatally shot by police was considered ‘high risk’

The coroner’s inquest into the death of an eastern Ontario man who was fatally shot at an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment in 2017 is considering what police knew prior to attempting to arrest him. 

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

OPP informed him he was under arrest for new charges related to an incident involving a knife that had happened just three days prior.

A scuffle ensued, during which an officer fired several shots, killing Saidi.

After investigating the incident, the province’s police watchdog concluded there were no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges against the officer who shot Saidi.

Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry OPP Sgt. Dave Budzinski told the inquest he was concerned about the Dec. 20 knife incident and that if police informed Saidi he was wanted for new charges he might barricade himself in his home or resist arrest.

The inquest heard a woman alleged Saidi ran up to her swearing and brandishing a knife when she dropped a flyer in the mailbox on the driveway of his rural home on Dec. 20.

Saidi held a knife to her throat through her driver-side window, but did not break the skin, the inquest heard.

Budzinski told the inquest Saidi was known to police for being violent and volatile and that was under consideration as they planned his arrest.

Budzinski said OPP considered arresting Saidi at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting he was required to attend, but when that plan didn’t work, they decided to arrest him at his weekly check-in at the Morrisburg detachment.

Identified as ‘high risk’

The sergeant said he isn’t certain he would’ve made any different decisions had he seen the contents of a risk assessment prepared by the OPP Threat and Behaviour Analysis Team in April 2017.

That report identified Saidi as “high risk” and included information about his substance-use problems and anti-social personality disorder diagnosis, the inquest heard.

Det. Sgt. William Gofton, manager of the behaviour analysis team, told the inquest the report was prepared using hundreds of police incident reviews and a preliminary psychiatric assessment because an application had been underway to have Saidi declared a dangerous offender.

Gofton said he wasn’t aware that application was dropped in May 2017.

coroners inquest hears ottawa man fatally shot by police was considered high risk
OPP Sgt. Dave Budzinski told the inquest on Tuesday police decided to arrest Saidi at his weekly check-in at the Morrisburg detachment regarding a knife incident a few days prior. (Angelina Ouimet)

Gofton said the report may have helped in planning an arrest, but much of the information already existed within police databases, including flags warning of weapons possession, unpredictable behaviour and drug use.

Since 2019, officers using the same records management software as the OPP can see when a threat assessment has been conducted on someone, but the written report is not available at their fingertips, Gofton said.

However, he said officers are given contact information for the relevant officer with the behaviour analysis team to help interpret past reports and avoid the use of outdated conclusions.  

Earlier on Wednesday, Saidi’s sister Elly Saidi told the inquest she wants to remember her brother not only for his mental health issues, but as a kind and helping person who’d bake for his family and harvest honey on his farm to show them his gratitude.

She told the inquest her younger brother had difficulty both socially and academically after the family left Iran as refugees in the 1980s, which led to them settling in Brockville, Ont. 

The inquest continues Thursday and is expected to delve further into the planning around Saidi’s arrest.

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