/Why one north Mississippi DA thinks special prosecutors hold the key in police shootings

Why one north Mississippi DA thinks special prosecutors hold the key in police shootings

Days after new D.A. Scott Colom was elected to office. Community organizers presented a petition with nearly 1,200 signatures to him, asking for a grand jury to investigate Ball’s death. Colom decided not to present the case before the grand jury. Colom opted to recuse himself and handed the case over to Attorney General Jim Hood’s Office — a controversial decision. Colom stated that there were people who claimed they voted for him and that he felt like he was selling them out by not prosecuting the case myself in an interview with Mississippi Today. These types of statements were why I had to withdraw myself, according to me. I am not a D.A. I’m not a D.A. Kami Chavis, Wake Forest University School of Law’s director of the criminal justice program, said that it has “a really positive implication for police accountability.” Chavis stated that it is more of an exception to the rule. Criminal justice advocates are focusing on ways to increase police accountability in light of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014. Reform challenger Wesley Bell won the election to replace Bob McCulloch as St. Louis County Prosecutor. He has stated that he will appoint special prosecutor in all cases involving police misconduct. Colom, who was supported by a political committee that was funded by billionaire George Soros and ran on a similar platform to the long-term incumbent Forrest Allgood. Since Colom’s election, three cases involving officer-involved shootings have been passed on to the office of the attorney general. Colom noted that two of those cases resulted in grand jury indictments. Canyon Boykin, the officer in the Ricky Ball incident, was indicted for manslaughter in September 2016. An Oktibbeha County grand jury indicted Gary Wheeler, a former Starkville officer, for aggravated assault. He had shot into a car and hit a civilian in his legs and stomach. Hood’s office confirmed that a third case involving officers in Lowndes County shootings did not result in an indictment. Colom said that his policy is based on two assumptions. His five-prosecutor team cannot help but to work closely with law enforcement officers in a rural area like his. He said that he cannot prosecute an officer-involved shooter fairly to his constituents, no matter how the case proceeds. Colom stated that the appearance to the public of independence is as important as the truth of independence. Chavis, a law professor, stated that such a policy can make a prosecutor seem legitimate in the communities where he or she works. Let’s pretend for a moment that a local D.A. Kate Levine, assistant professor of law at St. John’s University, said that she is impartial. Kate Levine, an assistant professor of law at St. John’s University, said that even if she was, her relationship with the police department makes it difficult for the public see her as impartial. “While there are some workarounds to the problem, such as civilian oversight board or federal prosecutors, attorneys general offices are theoretically often “far less conflicted than local prosecutors” but still accountable to the voters. Levine stated that in practice, however, the jury is still out on whether it has changed the system or increased confidence. This is partly because comprehensive data on police shootings at the national level and subsequent legal actions cannot be found, since there is no federal database. The state’s Bureau of Investigations in Mississippi investigates these shootings upon request of other officials, Warren Strain, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said. However, no law requires them to conduct uniform reviews across the state. John Herzog, an assistant district attorney, said that the Mississippi Prosecutors Association does not have an official position regarding whether district attorneys should be removed from officer-involved shooting incidents. Greenville, and the president of the association. Herzog stated that the decision is solely up to the 22 elected state district attorneys. Herzog sent an email stating that “most District Attorneys believe an independent agency should examine the cases and present their findings to the grand jury.” According to Margaret Ann Morgan, Hood’s office has not turned down any cases brought to it by local D.A.s because of conflict of interest. Morgan stated that the office received a case from Pike County in 2015 in 2014. However, a judge assigned the case to the Copiah County District Attorney. After a request from the Bolivar County D.A., the attorney general’s Office prosecuted a case of manslaughter against Walter Grant, a former Bolivar County deputy sheriff. Grant was charged with shooting a man in his back after a chase. The case was mistrialled and handed over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2015. Grant is now facing a federal charge of planting a weapon on a crime scene in order to justify a fatal shooting. Hinds County’s Robert Shuler Smith is the only district attorney to have never requested that the Attorney General’s Office investigate a case involving officer-involved shots. His jurisdiction has seen several such shootings within a little more than a year. In 2015, Soros’ Mississippi Safety and Justice PAC supported only two races in the state, Colom’s and Smith’s reelection campaign. Jackson’s city council approved this spring to officially turn over all officer-involved shooter investigations to MBI. Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba established a task team to draft policy recommendations regarding what information should be released by the city following an officer-involved shot, including the name and address of the officer. Smith stated to attendees that he has never seen any officer-involved shootings in his decade-long tenure in Jackson as D.A. Multiple requests from Mississippi Today for comment were not answered by Smith. Experts say that indictments and convictions do not necessarily mean justice. However, police shootings that disproportionately impact people of color don’t usually result in officers being charged or convicted. Recent years have seen several states (including Missouri and New Jersey) introduce legislation that requires special prosecutors to prosecute officers involved in shootings or deaths. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, signed an executive order in 2015 to appoint the state’s attorney General as special prosecutor for certain cases of civilian deaths involving officers. In 2017, Rep. Jeramey, D.Moss Point, and Sen. Juan Barnett (D-Heidelberg) both introduced bills that required the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, to investigate all officer-involved death and for the attorney general to prosecute all such cases. Both bills were defeated in committee. The state Association of Chiefs of Police does not have a position on this policy. However, Ken Winter, the director of the Association of Chiefs of Police, stated that D.A.s were elected to do their job and should not “cherry-pick” cases. He also understands the reasons why a district attorney might perceive a conflict of interests given the time they spend with officers. Winter said that it is important that the investigation is done objectively by a third-party. Winter, who also served as Indianola’s police chief, stated that “we just want honesty, and objectivity.” “That’s it. It doesn’t matter who does it.”