Bill Would Require Independent Investigations of Police-Involved Fatalities
Committee Approves Legislation To Have Attorney General Take Responsibility of Cases When Death Occurs As The Result of Law Enforcement Actions
TRENTON – Legislation authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney that would require independent investigations of police-involved fatalities was approved by a Senate committee today (2/5). The bill, S-1036, would require an independent investigation into deaths by police officers during official duty to be handled by the Attorney General’s Office, helping to ensure the integrity and credibility of the criminal justice system when law enforcement officials are involved in fatal encounters while on duty. The measure was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“It is important that the deadly encounters resulting from official police actions are investigated thoroughly and fairly and that the public trusts the findings,” said Senator Sweeney. “Independent investigations that are not associated with the county in which the death occurred will have more trust and credibility and will help remove any conflict of interest.”
This bill provides that, whenever a death occurs during an encounter with a police officer or other law enforcement official or when the subject is in custody when the officer is acting in the performance of his or her duties, the Attorney General, rather than the county prosecutor, would conduct any resulting investigation and prosecution. The Attorney General would present evidence concerning the officer’s action to a state or county grand jury in a county and court outside of where the death occurred.
Any resulting legal actions would also be pursued in the outside jurisdiction. For example, if an indictment is returned, the judge who impaneled the grand jury would designate a county of venue other than the county in which the incident resulting in the victim’s death occurred for trial, according to the legislation.
Identical legislation was vetoed by then-Governor Chris Christie after being approved by both houses of the Legislature. Moving these investigations from county prosecutors, who often have strong working relationships with the officers they are later required to treat as suspects, will ensure credibility in the outcome of the subsequent investigation and/or trial, Senator Sweeney said.
“The police-involved shooting deaths that have occurred in multiple states have traumatized their communities and further exposed a divide in this country between law enforcement and the residents they serve and protect,” said Senator Sweeney. “We have a real problem when a large portion of society feels as if the criminal justice system is not protecting them with equal justice. This can result in an erosion of the trust and confidence that is so important to the justice system and American society.”
Supporting the legislation are a number of civil justice organizations, including Richard Smith, president of the NAACP; Reva Foster of the Black Issues Convention; Ari Rosmarin from the ACLU; Archange Antione, representing the president of the Central New Jersey Chapter of NOBLE, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; Pastor David Ford and Father Jack Martin, both from the NJ Clergy Coalition for Justice.