Capitol Alert

California bill would create third-party oversight of police shootings

A photograph of Parminder Singh Shergill is displayed near his body during the funeral services for him at Cherokee Memorial Park in Lodi on Saturday, February 8, 2014.
A photograph of Parminder Singh Shergill is displayed near his body during the funeral services for him at Cherokee Memorial Park in Lodi on Saturday, February 8, 2014. rbenton@sacbee.com

Police officers who fatally shoot suspects would be subject to an outside review under California legislation being introduced by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento.

The bill follows a number of intensely scrutinized police killings, both the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, which drew national attention, and the case of an Army veteran, Parminder Singh Shergill, felled by police bullets in Lodi.

“There’s been an appetite for this on a national level and locally as well,” said McCarty. “The overarching issue is, who should investigate police shootings where a fatality is the outcome?”

Leaving that matter in the hands of local district attorneys, who typically have close ties to the police departments whose officers they are investigating, is not ideal, McCarty said. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office cleared the officers who shot down Shergill of any criminal wrongdoing.

“Many times DAs run for office and have such high links with the local law enforcement, and work with them on a daily basis, that enough people ask the question: ‘Should they distance themselves when they actually have to review an officer-involved shooting?’” McCarty said.

Under McCarty’s Assembly Bill 86, a law enforcement panel, likely within the California Department of Justice, would study each case of a California police officer shooting someone and issue a recommendation. The goal would not be issuing indictments but ensuring the community trusts that fatalities are thoroughly reviewed, McCarty said.

“Whether or not there would be a subsequent criminal action regarding that, that’s totally a different conversation,” McCarty said. “I’m just talking about the investigation.”

Some prosecutors could welcome the opportunity to “quell any appearance of a conflict,” said California District Attorneys Association CEO Mark Zahner. But he disputed the notion that district attorneys handle cases involving police officers differently from others.

“A county prosecutor’s job is to investigate criminal conduct within their jurisdiction, and they all take that very seriously,” Zahner said. “To them it doesn’t matter if a suspect is a cop, a police officer, a sheriff – they feel it is their obligation to a community to prosecute a case like that.”

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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