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Using Various Types of Witnesses
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Interviewing Witnesses - 14167_69
command  or  local  investigation,  assure witnesses  that you will not use the information against them, but let them know the report is releasable under the Freedom of  Information  Act  (FOIA). In a command or local investigation, information and evidence are not privileged. That is because junior supervisors may lack the ability to properly protect that information   from   release   or   misuse.   Information becomes  privileged  only  when  gathered  through  an afloat or aviation mishap investigation board. To avoid problems, avoid taking written statements for locally conducted  investigations. A  mishap  investigation  board  that  writes  a limited-use   mishap   report   can   promise   that   the information witnesses provide will not be used against them.  The  board  provides  that  promise  in  writing.  An Advice  to  Witness  form  (fig.  4-1)  is  provided  to  all witnesses in an afloat mishap so that they understand just how their testimony will be used by the board. Similar  forms  are  used  in  both  aviation  and  afloat mishap  investigations.  These  witness  statements  are privileged. Shore mishap investigation boards use a different  form  giving  the  witness  testimonial  immunity. Remember,  all  testimony  is  VOLUNTARY  in  a safety  investigation.  Witnesses  can  refuse  to  cooperate. You  must  explain  your  purpose  and  request  their assistance.  You  cannot  force  a  person  to  provide information. Interviewing Witnesses Witnesses   should   be   interviewed   as   soon   as practical after the mishap to ensure the integrity of the information.  Witnesses  provide  better  information when the mishap is fresh in their minds. Waiting days, or  even  hours,  to  conduct  an  interview  can  be detrimental. Witnesses are strongly influenced by each other and the news media. Given time to talk among themselves and compare stories, witnesses may add to or change their story. Seeing the mishap on the news can influence their own account. Witnesses can forget. They forget minor details. If the witnesses didn’t understand what they saw, they may use their imagination to fill in the blanks;  therefore,  their  story  may  change. Some witnesses are hostile, and, given time, may develop a grudge. They may find out information that influences them to protect a friend or to try to hurt their supervisor. Witnesses  may  go  out  and  tell  all  their  friends about the exciting mishap. Each time they tell the story, it gets better. Without knowing it, the witnesses  are  embellishing  the  information. Try to keep witnesses apart by giving them separate tasks at different locations. Put them to work drawing a sketch of the scene, listing participants, or writing down what they saw. Having a dozen sailors waiting together on the mess deck will ensure homogenized testimony. An investigator must also consider the personality of  the  witness: Extrovert or braggart Timid  or  self-conscious Suspicious Excitable Intentionally  misleading Traumatized Untruthful SIGNS  OF  UNTRUTHFULNESS Hang-dog   appearance Repeats  the  questions  asked Inaudible  speech Defensive  smile Nervous  laugh Unnatural emphasis on details Excessive  detail The  interviewer  determines  witness  reliability. Witnesses may not be intentionally misleading, but you must  compare  their  information  to  that  of  other witnesses. For example, six sailors responded to a fire aboard ship. Three said they heard the word passed and then heard the general quarters alarm. The fourth did not hear the word passed at all. The other two heard the word passed after the alarm. The interviewer must determine the credibility of each witness, compare testimony, and then decide which account was more accurate. The first 4-12

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