Jan Scully saves money by letting cops kill people

Sacramento County District Attorney saves money by ceasing investigations of police shootings

Allegedly “wrestling with budget cuts,” DA Jan Scully has ceased monitoring police shootings to determine whether the officers’ kills were justified and whether the investigations into them were conducted thoroughly, or at all.

Not that it really matters. After all, in the past 10 years, the Sacramento County DA’s office has investigated 93 officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, and not one has resulted in a criminal prosecution, even though many of those killed were unarmed.

Policy director for the Northern California ACLU, Allen Hopper, says he is “not aware of other DA’s offices dropping their officer-involved shooting units.”

Furillo, Andy. “With budget tight, Sacramento County DA cuts unit monitoring police shootings.” The Sacramento Bee. Jul. 21, 2011. http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/21/3783841/with-budget-tight-sacramento-county.html

Wrestling with budget cuts, the District Attorney’s Office has shut down the only countywide unit in Sacramento that had independently monitored police shootings to determine whether the officers’ actions were justified and whether the investigations into them were conducted thoroughly.

As a result, the DA’s office for the first time in decades did not dispatch its own team of investigators to independently review a fatal shooting earlier this month by a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy in the Arden Arcade area.

The DA’s monitoring efforts have not resulted in a criminal prosecution in Sacramento County for at least a decade, and one local lawyer who specializes in suing the police said the unit has acted as something of a “rubber stamp” over the years.

Still, the unit has lent an element of oversight that rank-and-file officers, police managers and their critics say is essential to maintaining good relations between cops and the community.

“Obviously, it’s a critical piece in making sure that the perception of the public is maintained in regard to the Police Department,” said Brent Meyer, president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association. “I think we’re going to lose out in the long run with this being cut.”

District Attorney Jan Scully cut the unit in response to a $6.9 million budget shortfall for her office that is expected to result in 42 layoffs, including 31 prosecutors.

Scully’s chief deputy, Cindy Besemer, said the officer-involved shooting team became a budget target in the face of higher priorities, such as prosecuting violent crimes.

The office also is looking at cutting prosecutors who focus on drug crimes, theft and misdemeanors. It has no plans to reduce prosecution of In-Home Supportive Services fraud, Besemer said. Employees assigned to the IHSS unit are paid from a special state fund.

In the past 10 years, the Sacramento County DA’s office has investigated 93 officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. None has resulted in a criminal prosecution.

Besemer said those numbers put the shooting unit first in line for the budget hit.

“It’s not like we have rogue law enforcement agencies who go around killing people or there are a lot of suspicious deaths in custody,” she said. “I think our law enforcement agencies have been very responsible here, and as a citizen, I don’t know that I would much care about it.”

Practices vary by county

Stewart Katz, a Sacramento lawyer who frequently sues local law enforcement agencies on use-of-force and custody issues, criticized the DA’s probes as a “rubber stamp” for police.
“I don’t think they’ve ever found a shooting not to be justified,” Katz said. “You could write their reports with a cookie cutter.”

At the same time, Katz said, his own reviews have shown that most Sacramento police shootings “seem to have been within the realm of acceptable police behavior.”

Katz said it’s been more than 10 years since he’s won a payout for a client who sued over a Sacramento law enforcement shooting. But in 2007, he won a $1 million settlement for plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed over three county jail suicides. Katz said the DA’s investigators turned up critical information in those cases that helped the plaintiffs.

Marty Vranicar, the assistant chief executive officer of the California District Attorneys Association, said large counties tend to have police shooting units. Smaller ones usually don’t, although some, like Yolo County, do.

“We know that a lot of DA’s offices are dealing with severe budget cuts,” Vranicar said. “This takes a tremendous amount of resources.”

State Department of Justice investigators step in when asked by police or prosecutors, spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill said. But the attorney general’s unit that conducts police shooting probes also is in line to be eliminated by budget cuts, Gledhill said.

Under its now-abandoned protocol, the DA’s office kept two investigators on call to respond to police shootings. Investigators also responded to all in-custody deaths, whether at the jail or during the course of an arrest.

DA investigators generally acted as monitors of the police agencies’ internal probes and turned their reports over to prosecutors in the Special Investigations Unit for final examination.

Budget cuts also have eviscerated special investigations. The DA’s office will keep one attorney in the unit to handle real estate fraud on a state contract. Three other lawyers have been reassigned, including the one who handled public-corruption cases such as the library kickback scandal, in which a trial is pending for three defendants.

‘The wrong message’

As for police shootings, Sacramento sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Jason Ramos said his agency found out July 3 that things had changed.

Nobody from the DA’s office rolled out the night deputies fatally shot William Eugene French in the Arden Arcade area. French, 49, had shot at a sheriff’s patrol car with a rifle, then approached deputies with a handgun and refused their orders to drop it.

“We recognize that certain cuts are an inevitable byproduct of the budget situation, and we’re not one to second-guess any decision that District Attorney Scully makes,” Ramos said. “We also recognize the need to have some kind of third party reviewing incidents like that, a system of checks and balances.”

Ramos said Sheriff Scott Jones has spoken with Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel and the heads of the other local law enforcement agencies in the county to talk about creating another oversight body. Under Jones’ plan, each of the other agencies would appoint representatives to the panel, which would then monitor the law enforcement agencies’ investigations.

Allen Hopper, police practices policy director for the Northern California ACLU, said he is not aware of other DA’s offices dropping their officer-involved shooting units.

“It sends the wrong message to the community,” Hopper said. “There are relatively few investigations of this sort, but they are incredibly important. They really do strike at the heart of the relationship between the police and the community.”