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DAs slow-mo investigation in police shooting erodes public trust
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It seems simple and straightforward.

A fatal shooting occurred involving a police officer There are witnesses with somewhat conflicting versions. But there is a video recording of the incident from the dashboard camera in the officer’s patrol unit.

Both sides - the police and the victim’s family - contend what is on that tape backs up their versions of the event that are different enough to raise questions in the minds of the general public.

The police conducted their investigation as required by law and forwarded it to the district attorney’s office that is required by law to do their own investigation. The entire incident involves less than a dozen witnesses and the video footage.

No one wants a rush to judgment.

No one expects for the DA’s office to answer all of the questions and do a thorough investigation in 60 minutes as happens in the fairy tale world of television prosecutors.

No one believes the DA’s office would physically have every cutting edge piece of investigation equipment at their disposal.

But what they have a right to expect is a timely examination of a peace officer’s use of lethal force and whether it was justified.

While the answer won’t please one of the two parties involved - Ernesto Duenez’ family or the Manteca Police - that isn’t really the most pressing concern here.

The bottom line for the people of this community is whether Manteca Police are acting properly within the constraints of the law. They are the ones we entrust to enforce the laws. They are the ones we arm.

We ask them to put their lives on the line but we also expect them to meet certain standards.

It is public confidence and trust that suffers when San Joaquin County District Attorney Jim Willett’s office has gone close to a year without completing their investigation.

Yes, the DA has been slammed hard by budget cutbacks just like other government agencies. The ranks of prosecutors have been slashed from 95 to 67 while the number of investigators has been cut in half to 20. At times, parts of Stockton resemble an open air shooting gallery meaning more cases involving weapons. It is a daunting task to say the least. While no one is going to say that the DA doesn’t have pressing cases that are making their way through the legal system, that doesn’t mean Willett gets a pass for essentially sidestepping one of his most critical roles.

That role is assuring the public that police actions - especially involving lethal force - are on the up and up. And in cases where the DA determines that is not the case, the public expects the law officer to be prosecuted in some form.

Whether that is what will happen here is not the point.

It’s been 359 days since the fatal encounter in the 200 block of Flores Avenue.

Yet the DA’s office is saying they are still waiting for an expert firm in the private sector to see if they can enhance the video footage.

A reasonable person would assume sending the video out to such an expert would have been one of the first things that happened when the evidence came into the hands of the DA. It’s tough to think in this day and age of high tech advances that such a firm is taking close to a year to enhance the video.

The truth - and this is a guess - probably is more along the lines the DA just put aside the entire thing assuming it was no big deal.

Well, Mr. Willett, it is a big deal. And it’s not just to the Manteca Police Department or the Duenez family but to the 70,000 residents of this city that expect you to do your job.

This is not a run-of-the-mill fatal shooting. This involves an officer entrusted by the community to follow the rules and keep the peace.

And while it is a tough and thankless job the public has every right to expect that they follow the rules.

That is where the DA is supposed to come in.

While the end result may clear the officer - or it may not - the real issue here is public confidence.

Given the apparent low priority of the fatal officer-involved shooting, the DA isn’t exactly demonstrating he is worthy of the community’s trust.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.