Three of the five police gunshots that struck Babak Saidi outside the Morrisburg OPP detachment on Dec. 23, 2017, were potentially fatal wounds, a forensic pathologist testified Friday at the inquest into his death.
Two of those bullets punctured his lungs and major blood vessels and each, alone, would cause rapid death, Dr. Charis Kepron testified. The third wound, which also punctured a lung, would have been fatal without prompt medical aid.
“Any of these three (shots) could have caused death and certainly all three together could have caused rapid death due to blood loss,” Kepron told the inquest.
Saidi, 43, died after he scuffled with two OPP officers who were trying to arrest him on outstanding assault charge when Saidi appeared at the detachment for a regular weekly check-in.
When the officers told Saidi, who was already flagged as a violent, high-risk offender, that he was under arrest, he tried to leave, saying he had to tell his father, who was waiting outside. The officers chased him and Saidi was shot in the ensuing scuffle after police said he tried to reach for one of the officer’s guns.
Kepron described how Saidi’s body arrived at the Ottawa Hospital for the autopsy. He was wearing blue jeans, a green shirt and a blue and white sweater. She found a religious medal around his neck. In the pocket of his jacket was a notebook and pen, and $30 cash. His was still wearing the silver handcuffs police clamped on him after he was shot.
Two of the gunshot wounds were minor: one a soft-tissue wound on his left thigh, and another that entered the back of his right shoulder and exited out the arm.
The three fatal shots were also all in his back, though Kepron testified she couldn’t tell in what order they had been fired or from what range.
One entered the upper right side of Saidi’s back, penetrating his left lung before lodging in his left chest. She measured about 350 millilitres of blood in his lung — “a little bit less than a standard pop can,” she said.
The second fatal shot entered at the back of his upper right shoulder, punctured his right lung, and severed his esophagus and the aorta, the main artery carrying blood to his heart.
The third fatal shot, also into his right back, penetrated his right lung and struck the pulmonary trunk, part of his heart.
Saidi’s body also exhibited signs of “blunt force trauma” — various scrapes and bruises that Kepron said had occurred some time within a few hours of his death, but didn’t contribute to it.
“Based on the historical information and the postmortem findings, death is attributed to gunshot wounds to the right shoulder and right side of the back,” Kepron wrote in her report.
Saidi was born in Tehran and immigrated to Canada with his family in 1985. The family lived in Brockville, where Saidi struggled both socially and in school. He suffered from drug addiction and mental health issues and had frequent trouble with police.
Also testifying Friday was OPP Sgt. Charlene Davidson, who told of the difficulties police have when dealing with people with mental health issues. Davidson was platoon commander and on her way to the detachment that day but wasn’t there during the fatal shooting.
Davidson said it was “very, very common” for police officers to deal with people with mental health problems.
“When I started policing in 1994, things were very different,” she said. “There was, in my opinion, a lot more access for people who needed psychological care or were suffering from mental illness. When we had the ability to take people to a psychiatric facility to get treatment, in my opinion it was much more beneficial to the community,” she said.
“In my reality in police work, we do not have enough resources for mentally ill people. I know this is outside the scope of this inquest, but that’s where I feel the recommendations could lie that will make a real difference in getting to the root cause of where we’re at today.”
The inquest resumes Monday before presiding coroner, Dr. Bob Reddoch.