Local attorney’s practice lies between polygraphs and law
Published: December 5, 2013
After 36 years and scores of high-profile cases, Akron attorney Bill Evans recalls the first murder examination he conducted as a polygraph expert.
A Bath woman disappeared without a trace, and police questioned a man who delivered a water softener to her home that day.
“He was not a suspect, but he was the guy last known to be at the home,” Evans said.
“Just to confirm his statement, they asked him to take a polygraph. I tested him and he failed,” he said. “I looked down at the toe of his shoe, and there appeared to be a dried blood spot.
“One thing led to the next, and we had a confession within five minutes and a map to where he had dumped her body.”
A former detective with the Summit County Sheriff’s office, Evans used his background in law enforcement to launch a polygraph testing and assessment career alongside a general legal practice – to his knowledge the only person in the United States to blend the fields.
Last month, Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins honored Evans for 30 years of assisting the county’s law enforcement – mostly through polygraph testing in high-profile cases. The annual event, hosted by the Trumbull County Homicide Investigation and Prosecution Unit, honored seven others for their assistance.
Evans’ company, Poly-Tech Associates, provides polygraph testing, psychological assessments for human resources departments and legal services to a wide variety of clients throughout the state. He said his work with the Trumbull County prosecutors throughout the years led to decades of work with the area’s defense bar.
“We’ve had some really good results over the years,” Evans said. “Solved a lot of cases.”
A large chunk of the small Akron office’s business comes from public sector internal affairs departments. Evans said he works with roughly 80 Ohio police and fire departments to help in hiring and promotions.
“Sometimes it’s a pretty sticky wicket for a department to do its own internal affairs work because you can never win,” Evan said.
“Police departments know they have to pass a levy in order to stay in business,” he said. “You’re stewards of the public’s money, but you’re also stewards of the public’s trust.”
Much of Evans’ time is spent on one-on-one interviews in a small back room of his office where he uses a computerized polygraph machine, often while his client’s counsel watches from another room.
“It’s not like you see on TV,” he said. “We don’t get results during the commercials. It takes two or three hours to do a polygraph on someone.”
Though the accuracy of polygraphs has been met with skepticism by scientists (the National Academies of Sciences released a meta-study calling the available evidence “scanty and scientifically weak”) and the Supreme Court (United States v. Scheffer, 1998), the tests remain widely used and defended.
Evans said he could not think of one instance when his results proved inaccurate.
“It’s well-studied and it’s well-determined that when someone tells a lie, certain things take place,” said Evans.
“When a person is telling the truth, the nervous normal is something that occurs. If they jump out of their norm, that grabs my attention and tells me they aren’t leveling with me about something.”
Evans took a circuitous path to follow his childhood dream of practicing law, one that offered him a shot at carving a one-of-a-kind niche for his practice.
“It never crossed my mind – never one time – being a policeman,” he said. “What did cross my mind was paying for my education.”
The son of a Goodyear employee, Evans graduated from The University of Akron with a criminal justice degree and began working as a deputy at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office with the plan of one day paying his way through law school. In 1977, he asked a local prosecutor – mostly on a whim – about the opportunity to attend polygraph school. That year, he found himself in New York City at the National Training Center of Polygraph Science with his tuition paid by the sheriff.
Later that year, Evans founded Poly-Tech and continued to work as a polygraphist and general assignment detective for the sheriff’s office.
In 1979, Evans took a job he “couldn’t refuse” as regional loss prevention representative at Fisher Foods Inc. in Cleveland. He continued to climb the corporate ladder at the $1.6 billion company, but the time constraints proved too much for him to take.
“You were expected to work Saturday mornings,” he said. “I had a family. Raising a family, it wouldn’t be a good way to do that.”
In 1984, Evans returned to full-time polygraph testing at Poly-Tech while teaching classes on criminal law and evidence and procedure. In 1988 he started taking classes at The University of Akron School of Law, spurred both by his childhood dream and the passage of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, which severely limited the polygraph field in the private sector.
“In order to fill the void that we expected to be created with the loss of commercial polygraph testing, we began doing the assessments,” he said. “We also began doing investigations.”
During his time at UA Law’s night program, Evans continued to teach and work at Poly-Tech. After graduation, he found himself with a unique business at his Truth & Law Center on South Main Street.
“I don’t know of anyone who is a lawyer and a polygraphist in Ohio,” he said. “Every day is different.”
Each of his polygraph clients signs a waiver explicitly delineating Evans’ role as he switches hats from attorney to polygraphist. Evans said his career generally splits equally between polygraph examinations, his general legal practice and other assessment or consultant work.
“More often than not now I’m involved in confidential matters,” he said. “You have to go on word of mouth referrals.”
Alongside Poly-Tech, Evans served as the chair – some say savior - of the Soapbox Derby for five years during the recent recession. He also regularly speaks to organizations including the National Training Center of Polygraph Science, the American Society for Industrial Security, the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association and UA Law.
Though he said he tries to avoid too much attention, Evans continues to work for high-level clients and hopes to keep expanding his practice outside of litigation.
“We evaluate a lot of different attributes and a lot of different job skill sets and competencies and the ability for a person to be able to manage people,” he said.
“We evaluate a person’s DNA above their shoulders.”