A special, or independent, prosecutor – someone external to the local jurisdiction and local governmental departments – should be assigned to investigate and determine whether criminal charges should be filed against a police officer, especially in cases where officers use force against civilians. Further, the special prosecutor should be provided with qualified investigators and resources to eliminate reliance on information provided by or investigations led by local police — another potential conflict of interest. The White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing reiterated the need for independent prosecutors in cases of police involved killings.
March 9, 2017 (San Diego) Reverend Shane Harris of The National Action Network accounted two things regarding the Alfred Olango Shooting. The first concerns other steps to take after San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis found no cause. The National Action Network San Diego Chapter is going to to take the step of meeting with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to ask the state appoints a special prosecutor.
There are solid reasons to ask for a special prosecutor in any officer-involved shooting. Police Officer Associations often endorse DA’s, and this has been a pattern with Dumamis during her career. She never finds fault with officers. There is a clear conflict of interest when an officer from a department who has endorsed any DA opens fire, or uses any other form of force when that DA has to adjudicate the event. It matters little what are the facts of the case are.
There have been calls in the past to remove DAs from this part of the process. So what NAN is doing is not unique or unprecedented. In 2015 such a proposal was put forwards in the Georgia State Senate, which was opposed by DAs. According to their reporting:
A proposal to require a special prosecutor appointment in fatal police shooting cases ran into stiff resistance Monday from Georgia’s district attorneys and top law enforcement officials who turned out in force before a Senate committee to voice opposition.
Roughly 20 district attorneys, the head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and leaders with the state sheriff’s association spoke out against a proposal that would remove local district attorneys from halding shooting cases where a citizen is killed by an officer.
This bill did not become law, however, the Atlanta Black Star reported that they did bring the state in line with the rest of the country by ending special privileges that officers had.
However, while the law’s sponsors believe it will now put Georgia in line with the rest of the country, some people believe the bill does not go nearly far enough as it should. Kay Levine, associate professor at Emory University School of Law, told the Associated Press that the public is still concerned about the close relationship that police have with prosecutors in Georgia. “And they are sometimes associated with being on the same team,” she said.
There was an attempt to pass legislation at the Federal level in 2014, It was introduced by Representative Hank Johnson (GA-D) The summary of the bill goes as follows:
Grand Jury Reform Act of 2014 – Requires a state to comply with the requirements of this Act in order for it, or a local governmental unit thereof, to be eligible to receive funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.
Directs the governor of a state to: (1) appoint a special prosecutor to present evidence on the state’s behalf at a hearing before a judge to determine whether probable cause exists to bring criminal charges against a law enforcement officer who uses deadly force against a person and thereby causes his or her death; and (2) use a random process to select the special prosecutor from among the prosecutors in the state, excluding the prosecutors of the locality in which the death took place.
Requires: (1) the judge to issue the determination in writing and submit it to the chief prosecutor of the locality in which the death took place; (2) the special prosecutor, upon conclusion of the hearing, to submit written recommendations to such chief prosecutor, including regarding whether criminal charges should be brought against the officer; and (3) the court to remain open to the public in such hearing, except as determined appropriate by the presiding judge.
This call for the State Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor is not unusual. They are becoming more common. For example, a special prosecutor has joined the Philando Castile case in Minnesota. Foreign examples also exist. The Province of Manitoba investigates all officer misconduct through an office of a special prosecutor. They do have some issues, but they have taken that step already of forming a special office.