Sac DA Jan Scully’s free-pass to trigger-happy cops results (surprise) in record shootings and deaths

No Longer Investigated by DA’s Office, Sacramento County Officer-Involved Shootings and Deaths Break Records

In the first 37 days of the year, sheriff’s deputies have killed two suspects and wounded three others…. 

Editorial: Are shootings by deputies being fully reviewed?” The Sacramento Bee. Feb. 8, 2012.
It may turn out to be merely a statistical blip that already this year, Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies have fired at six suspects. That’s more officer-involved shootings for the department than in any recent full year except 2009, when there were seven.

It’s still alarming – and demands a serious response from Sheriff Scott Jones. As The Bee’s Kim Minugh reported Tuesday, he is looking for any common threads in the shootings indicating that policies need to be  changed or that training needs to be improved.

While the Sheriff’s Department cautions that it’s too early to draw conclusions from a relatively small number of cases, it also notes that firearms training – including when it is appropriate to use deadly force – is now twice a year instead of three times a year, due to budget cuts.

The spate of shootings also requires District Attorney Jan Scully to reconsider her decision to stop conducting the final review of every officer-involved shooting in the county.

Scully scuttled the independent investigations last summer, blaming the county budget crunch. Putting together budgets is about setting priorities. There aren’t many more fundamental ones than public trust in law enforcement – and part of that confidence is that officers will shoot only when necessary to protect themselves or others.

In the first 37 days of the year, sheriff’s deputies have killed two suspects and wounded three others. The latest shooting happened early Monday when a deputy spotted a man near a stolen car in the area of Stockton Boulevard and Fruitridge Road. The suspect refused to stop, police say, and during a struggle with the deputy, he reached into his waistband. The deputy shot him, but no gun was found. Lamont Harmon, 47, died at the hospital.

As in all such cases, homicide detectives will investigate. The Sheriff’s Department will do an administrative inquiry. Jones plans to review each shooting himself and issue a letter explaining whether he believes it was legally justified. The sheriff had also proposed creating a panel of regional police chiefs to review shootings, but that idea was dropped for legal liability reasons.

The county’s Office of the Inspector General does a review, but it doesn’t have the expertise or credibility of the District Attorney’s Office in such matters.

Scully announced last June that because budget cuts were forcing her to lay off 31 prosecutors, her office would no longer review officer-involved shootings or in-custody deaths of suspects and would prosecute fewer other cases.

Since, there have been 14 officer-involved shootings in the county. Scully’s office has taken on only one law enforcement case. At the request of Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, it is reviewing the October death of Tyrone Smith, who lost consciousness in the back of a police car following his arrest for allegedly shooting a Twin Rivers officer.

When an environmental settlement with Chevron produced a $6.5 million windfall for the District Attorney’s Office last September that allowed Scully to avoid any layoffs, she decided it was more important to beef up prosecutions of felonies and other cases. There’s no legal requirement for DAs to investigate officer shootings, and prosecutors in some other large counties don’t.

With more county budget cuts on the way for 2012-13, Scully’s office isn’t planning to resume investigating officer shootings. The cost would likely be at least $600,000 a year, mostly for two on-call investigators and an attorney who specializes in such cases.

These are frugal times, but it is hard to put a price on ensuring that public trust isn’t a casualty from these shootings.