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DA vows faster review of officer involved shootings

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POSTED May 16, 2017 12:27 a.m.

Nothing — notes San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar — is swept under the rug when it comes to investigating a shooting involving a law enforcement officer.
The DA as the county’s top law enforcement officer deploys an elaborate protocol involving multiple agencies and roughly 50 investigators. The process has been long-established and designed to maximize transparency with the goal of obtaining justice for all involved — the person shot, the officer involved, their families, and the community.
That said, Verber Salazar concedes that the longer it takes to investigate an officer involved shooting and announce the results, the more likely public confidence can be eroded.
It is why the DA has vowed to speed up the process without reducing its thoroughness or integrity as well as to explain the process to the public
Explaining the process to the public was what Verber Salazar was doing Thursday when she spoke to the Manteca Rotary Club during their meeting at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.
While some may argue there is a “cover up” regardless of the time it takes to investigate such shootings, the DA conceded the longer it takes to bring an officer involved shooing to a conclusion the greater the chance for distrust to develop.
The DA’s office is notified immediately when an officer involved shooting occurs.
That activates a task force composed of 50 investigators that have specific duties including tasks that are redundant so there are multiple eyes looking at evidence. Besides the agency whose jurisdiction the shooting occurred within other departments are involved from other cities, the Department of Justice crime lab, and the district attorney’s office that has over two dozen seasoned investigators that have an average of 20 to 22 years of experience. A deputy district attorney is also dispatched to the shooting scene.
The task force is divided into three teams. One interviews the shooter and the “real witnesses” — those that actually saw the event unfold. Another team interviews secondary witnesses who may have heard things or witnessed events after or before the fact. The third team collects evidence.
“There are 50 people doing the investigation,” Verber Salazar said.
The DA said those that contend there are cover-ups involved in police officer involved shootings there would need to be 50 people “to get their stories straight and act (in concert) in a conspiracy.”
Verber Salazar noted that it is impossible to get 50 people to collude.
“It’s been pointed that Jesus has 12 disciples and one of them betrayed him,” she said to emphasize the number of people eliminates the possibility of a rogue investigation.
Once the report is completed, it is sent to the chief DA in charge of homicides for review. The DA does not see the report at this point. It is them forwarded with a recommendation of action to the DA.
If Verber Salazar believes there is not a clear call or red flags are raised, she will forward it to the California Attorney General’s Office. If it is still a close call the FBI is called in to review the report.
“There are a lot of checks and balances built in,” the DA said. “That is why it (officer involved shootings) takes a long time to be competed.”
The decision whether to prosecute an officer is based on the same criteria used for all shooting suspects.
“It (an officer involved shooting) is always classified as a homicide as a homicide is causing the death of another human being,” she explained.
Whether it is premediated first degree murder, second degree murder that was neither intentional nor planned or was caused by dangerous conduct or obvious lack of concern for another’s life, manslaughter, or justified based on self-defense is framed by what investigations reveal is the state of mind and actions of the shooter before and after as well as the actions of the person short.
The DA illustrated the point by speaking of a hypothetical shooting where a gang member shoots a rival gang member that was found to be unarmed. If police find out in their investigation that the gang member that was shot had been broadcasting that he planned to kill the person that ended up shooting him it could color the conclusion of their investigation. If it is then determined the shooting victim had made a motion to reach inside his waistband as he approached the shooter, it would lead to a self- defense conclusion even if after the shooting happened police found that he was unarmed.
At the same time if someone breaks into a home and are a clear threat to the residents and they are shot it may not end up being ruled self-defense if it is determined the person  shot was actually killed with fatal shots after they fled the home and were running away.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email

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