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District Attorney Jan Scully says it's time to resume independent reviews of officer shootings.

Sacramento County DA to resume review of officer-involved shootings

Published: Saturday, Jun. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 - 3:51 pm

Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully announced Friday that her office will resume – in a limited form – the reviews of police shootings that it had scrapped two years ago due to budget cuts.

Scully's announcement, contained in a letter sent to Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones and six city police chiefs, came on the same day the county grand jury mildly rebuked the DA's Office for its July 2011 decision to abandon the reviews.

In her letter to the chiefs, Scully said her budget situation "is clearly still not ideal," but that "I have decided that it is time to restore this important function to my Special Investigations unit, albeit in a modified format."

"As of now, our review of (officer-involved shooting) cases will be limited to a legal analysis to determine whether the 'shooting' was lawful," Scully's letter said. "We will rely upon the investigative information generated by your agency to conduct such legal review of the event."

Before it stopped the reviews two years ago, the DA's Office would send on-call investigators to shooting sites to conduct their own investigations of officer-involved shootings. Those probes were parallel to the ones that were being conducted by the police agencies.

Scully told law enforcement leaders in the letter that she has lost 42 percent of what she called her "general fund investigative team" due to budget cuts. She said the reduction no longer allows her to conduct a full, separate investigation, either at the shooting sites or in cases of in-custody deaths. She said that in special circumstances, her chief investigator will be available by telephone "to consider an immediate response."

Earlier Friday, the Sacramento County grand jury released a report containing the findings of its investigation into a rash of shootings last year by sheriff's deputies.

The report noted that the 2012 uptick in shootings by deputies – 13 in the first eight months of the year, eight of which were fatal – began six months after the DA's Office disbanded its previous officer-involved shootings protocol.

Although the grand jury report "found no evidence or indication that the district attorney's decision to disband its independent review process was an element in the increase" in shootings, the panel did find that the elimination of the reviews "has negatively affected the perception of law enforcement accountability in the county and public confidence in the review process."

It then recommended that the Board of Supervisors "provide sufficient funds to support the comprehensive, objective review and analysis of officer-involved shootings," either by the district attorney or the county Office of the Inspector General.

Michael Arkelian, the grand jury's incoming foreman, welcomed the DA's move to reinstate the shooting reviews, even in the limited form.

"Obviously that complies with our recommendation, or at least one of the recommendations," Arkelian said. "I know it's something (Scully) reluctantly gave up, so hopefully the next step will be for the Board of Supervisors to allow her to put that back in without having to cut something else out of their budget. But that is obviously up to them."

Chris Andis, the spokeswoman for County Executive Brad Hudson, said the grand jury's recommendation "must be balanced with the other requests for funding. From now until the final budget in September, we will be weighing program needs to achieve the best balance possible with the funds that are available."

Law enforcement agencies had generally welcomed the DA's review of officer-involved shootings for the very reason cited for criticism in the grand jury report.

An outside agency's independent conclusion on the legality of a shooting is critical, the chiefs have said, to lend credibility to their own investigations.

"It's something we've been saying since the District Attorney's Office opted out," Jones said Friday. "We want that review. It's easy for me to stand up and say, 'It was a good shoot,' and that's the end of this. I've wanted this."

In looking at the 13 Sheriff's Department shootings, the grand jury said the circumstances of each case "were different from every other case; no common characteristics or elements were identified among a significant number of the cases."

The county government oversight panel found that neither the Sheriff's Department nor the inspector general analyzed the deputy shootings with an eye to see what could be learned from them. The report recommended that the department restore its use-of-force review process to improve training.

Jones said his department was already "well on our way" to incorporating the "lessons learned" suggestion before the grand jury report came out.

Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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