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Senate panel weighs independent probes of police killings

Steve Lash//March 12, 2019

Senate panel weighs independent probes of police killings

By Steve Lash

//March 12, 2019

ANNAPOLIS – Amid racial unrest spurred by police slayings of unarmed black men in other states, a Baltimore state senator urged her colleagues Tuesday to support legislation requiring that investigations of killings by officers be conducted by outside investigators.

The proposed Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act would also require that the investigators’ reports be made public if the officers are not prosecuted, a provision designed to promote public confidence in investigations and decisions to forgo prosecution, said Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Democrat.

“We need greater transparency and accountability” in the investigation of police-involved killings, Carter told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, on which she sits.

“We have to do something,” Carter said. “These incidents happen and there isn’t enough transparency, accountability and public trust.”

Protests arose this month in Alabama, after the state chose not to prosecute an officer in the shooting death of Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. in a shopping mall in November, as well as in California, where the state opted not to prosecute the officers who shot Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s Sacramento backyard last March.

In both cases, the prosecutors concluded the officers reasonably believed they were in danger.

To avoid similar protests in Maryland, Carter said her legislation, Senate Bill 898, would require that investigations of police-involved slayings be conducted by at least two experienced investigators unaffiliated with the law enforcement agency that employs the involved officer. The investigators would submit their report to the state’s attorney’s office in the city or county where the killing occurred.

If the state’s attorney declines to prosecute, the report would be made public, with confidential information redacted.

But the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association oppose the legislation as unnecessary, saying current procedures and oversight are sufficient to ensure thorough and open investigations of officer-involved killings.

For example, police departments can and do seek help from outside agencies in conducting what would otherwise be internal investigations, the associations stated in joint written testimony to the Senate committee.

“This discretion allows an agency to determine the most effective approach for these investigations and to discuss matters of process and cost with the investigative agencies,” the associations stated. “In those jurisdictions where the law enforcement agency is managed by an elected sheriff, the electorate has granted the authority and accountability to the sheriff to handle these complex investigations.”

Similarly, police chiefs overseeing officer-involved shootings within their ranks are accountable to the county executive, mayor or other appointing authority, the associations stated.

In addition, investigations can be turned over to grand juries, or the Justice Department could conduct a civil rights inquiry, the associations added.

But Carter said such internal investigations and referrals lack the necessary accountability and transparency.

“We have seen time after time when that hasn’t been acceptable for the public trust,” Carter told the committee.

The legislation has been cross-filed in the House of Delegates. Del. Emily Shetty, D-Montgomery, is the chief sponsor of House Bill 983.


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