More Independent Prosecutors Urged In Police Shooting Cases

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The absence of indictments of police officers in shooting deaths is raising questions about the fairness of using local prosecutors to investigate police officers with whom they may have close ties, says the Christian Science Monitor. Critics say the close working relationships between local prosecutors and law enforcement injects a bias into investigations of shootings and other deaths at the hands of police. A solution, some suggest, would be to use independent prosecutors to investigate charges of wrongdoing by police officers. The investigation into the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., offers an example of the closeness between prosecutors and police departments. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore recused himself from the investigation because he had worked closely with both police-officer parents an officer involved in the shooting.

In some cases, says Walter Katz, an independent police auditor of the city of San Jose, Ca., there is evidence that suggests the investigator’s close relationship to the officer can lead to a lack of objectivity. “That can be amplified when also the local prosecuting agency is the agency that reviews to decide whether or not to file criminal charges against a police officer,” Katz says. “In smaller jurisdictions … they’re going to have a close working relationship, so it creates the potential impression that it’s not an arm’s length review of the use of force.” The problem of unwarranted officers’ shootings of blacks wouldn’t be solved with independent prosecutors, says Marbre Stahly-Butts of the Center for Popular Democracy, but “certainly accountability is an essential step that needs to happen,” she says. Local advocates are working to address these issues, Stahly-Butts says, especially in St. Louis and New York, which now has a policy of ensuring independent prosecutors.


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