An independent panel should be created to review Colorado prosecutors’ decisions not to charge police officers who shoot suspects, said the former head of a panel that reviewed probes of cop shootings. The Denver Post says former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice William Erickson believes such reviews would let the public know how prosecutors made their choices, and that could lend credibility to the review process.
Erickson examined the 1997 case of Jeffrey Truax, who was shot 25 times by two off-duty police officers outside a nightclub. The officers were cleared by District Attorney Bill Ritter.
Erickson’s comments come after another officer’s exoneration of criminal wrongdoing after a fatal shooting. Ritter decided not to file charges against Westminster, Co., officer Karl Scherck after Scherck, while off duty, shot a prowler at his mother’s Denver home.
Part of the problem is the public’s confusion about the difference between a legal shooting and a justified one, Erickson said. A legal shooting is determined by state laws governing an officer’s right to use force. Determination of a justified shooting is largely dependent on a police department’s rules of behavior.
“The criminal justice system doesn’t determine whether it’s a good or righteous shooting,” former Denver district attorney Norm Early said. “The goal is to see if it’s a case provable to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and that’s a totally different process.”
Idaho, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Ohio have similar laws regarding use of deadly force by police. Most are based on a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said police no longer could use any force necessary merely to achieve an arrest. They needed to have a reason to fire.