On 29-30 October 2020, the Dr. Phil show aired its first polygraph episode since the death of the show’s longtime polygraph operator, Jack Trimarco, in 2018. For that purpose, Dr. Phil brought on John Leo Grogan, whom Trimarco had denounced as “nothing more than a fraud,” but whom host Phil McGraw presented as “one of the most respected polygraph examiners in the country.”
On 19 & 22 February 2021, the Dr. Phil show aired its second polygraph episode since Trimarco’s death. It is seemingly no accident that this two-part polygraph episode, like the previous one, aired during a Nielsen sweeps rating period, a crucial time for advertising revenue. The Dr. Phil show has historically used the revelation of polygraph results at the end of an episode to build suspense and boost viewership.
This episode’s guest is Jeremy Dewitte, who operates a funeral escort service in Florida, where he has been criminally charged with impersonating a police officer. Phil McGraw introduces the polygraph segment thus:
Dr. Phil: Is Jeremy playing cop or just doing his job? He insists he is not impersonating a police officer and wanted to take a polygraph test to show that his state of mind was not to try to imply to people that he was doing so. I recommended against it. I didn’t want him to do it. I, I’m not a big fan of these things, but he, he insisted. We’ll find out the results together. Be right back.
Although Phil McGraw states that he recommended against the polygraph and is “not a big fan of these things,” in an interview with AntiPolygraph.org, Jeremy Dewitte stated that it was a producer of the show who first broached the topic of a polygraph “test,” asking if he would be willing to do one. Dewitte states that he told the producer that he had no problem doing so, and that no one from the Dr. Phil show attempted to discourage him from doing so.
This time, the show did not re-engage John Grogan’s services but instead introduced a new polygraph operator, Gil Witte of San Diego:
Dr. Phil: Jeremy says he wanted to take a polygraph, uh, to clear his name. Uh, now we reached out to world-renowned police polygraph examiner, instructor, publisher, and speaker, uh, Gil Witte. Now, Gil has over seventeen years of experience. He’s conducted thousands of polygraph tests and is the current president of the California Association of Polygraph Examiners.
To AntiPolygraph.org’s knowledge, the 41-year-old Witte is not particularly renowned, nationally or internationally. He has worked as a civilian polygraph operator for the San Diego Police Department and as an instructor for a Florida polygraph school. As for his being a “publisher,” he has co-authored a single article that appeared in Polygraph, a non-scientific quarterly trade journal published by the American Polygraph Association. ((Witte, G., Senter, S. and B. Blalock, “Impact of Interview Route Maps: Single Examiner Case Study,” Polygraph, 2016, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp. 117-124.)) Witte is indeed the current president of the California Association of Polygraph Examiners, a relatively insignificant organization. It would seem that Witte’s greatest claim to fame to date is his appearance on the Dr. Phil show.
McGraw goes on to characterize Witte as a “countermeasures expert,” and Witte implies that he caught Jeremy Dewitte attempting to use polygraph countermeasures:
Dr. Phil: …Gil, when it comes to polygraph exams, you’re also a, a countermeasures expert. Explain what countermeasures are.
Witte: Uh, countermeasures are behaviors that you can do during specific questions on the exam to enhance physiology on those areas and appear as a truthful individual. That’s why we have activity sensors to the floor for your feet, activity sensors on the chair for core movements, and the rubber tubes that go over your chest and your stomach do record upper body movements, so upper body activity. So if you were to try to manipulate any of those, we actually have the sensors that tell us, this data’s true, this data’s not true.
Dr. Phil: Did that play into the test yesterday?
Witte: Yes it did.
It should be noted that no polygraph operator has ever demonstrated any ability to reliably detect sophisticated polygraph countermeasures (the kind that anyone who understands polygraph procedure would employ), and the available research suggests that they can’t. Extensive polygraph community documentation obtained by AntiPolygraph.org confirms that polygraph operators have no coherent methodology for countermeasure detection.
To AntiPolygraph.org’s knowledge, Gil Witte, who holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Nova Southeastern University, has conducted no research and published nothing on the topic of polygraph countermeasures, and his website provides no documentation of any such expertise. As of this writing, Witte has not responded to an inquiry from AntiPolygraph.org regarding the basis for his being characterized as a “countermeasures expert.”
Witte does not explain what Dewitte did that he construed to be polygraph countermeasures. However, Dewitte told AntiPolygraph.org that in order to stay calm during the polygraph, he breathed slowly and deeply. Such breathing is not uncommon when people are in a stressful situation. However, it is not something that anyone who understands polygraph procedure would actually do in an attempt to pass or beat the polygraph. Nonetheless, polygraph operators often call slow and/or deep breathing a polygraph countermeasure.
Dewitte told AntiPolygraph.org that during the polygraph session, conducted in early November 2020 in a hotel conference room, Witte provided no indication that he suspected he was employing polygraph countermeasures.
According to Dewitte, the relevant questions asked on the show were chosen by the show’s producers, and not by himself:
All three of these relevant questions go to Dewitte’s state of mind. He could have sincerely believed that his denial to each of these questions was truthful, while a reasonable person looking at the available evidence could reach a different conclusion. Because of the subjective nature of the selected relevant questions, it is unlikely that the accuracy of the polygraph results could ever be independently confirmed or disconfirmed.
As it turns out, Witte deemed Dewitte deceptive with respect to all three relevant questions, stating that he scored -37 (a particularly low “failing” score).
However, given polygraphy’s complete lack of scientific underpinnings, Witte’s assigned polygraph score is without evidentiary value and provides no meaningful indication of whether Dewitte acted with mens rea.
Given that Dewitte had been indicted for allegedly impersonating a police officer, it is hardly surprising that the three relevant questions would have produced a strong emotional response, whether or not he answered them truthfully.
Asked by AntiPolygraph.org what other polygraph questions Witte had asked him, Dewitte recalled two probable-lie “control” questions: “Have you ever lied to a loved one?” and “Have you ever represented yourself to be something you’re not?” Dewitte did not appear to understand that these were “control” questions, or the function they serve. (A person who has studied polygraph countermeasures would presumably know this. For an explanation of “control” questions and effective polygraph countermeasures, see Chapters 3 & 4 of our free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.)
Dewitte told AntiPolygraph.org that he was never provided with nor shown his polygraph report, and that he would not object to Witte providing AntiPolygraph.org with a copy of the computerized data file associated with his polygraph examination so that we could conduct an independent review. At the time of writing, Witte has not responded to our request that he send us that data.