The Henry County District Attorney’s office is hoping to bring consistency to how it reviews cases of police shootings.
Henry County District Attorney Darius Pattillo, after taking office in January, established a review process for officer-involved deaths. Pattillo made the new process publicly known at the end of July when announcing in a press release that his office found officers’ use of force in three 2016 incidents justified.
“I inherited a lot of cases when I took office, and I wanted a review process to make sure we were doing due diligence,” Pattillo told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
According to Megan Matteucci, an assistant district attorney, there was no official policy under the previous administration with former district attorney Jim Wright.
“We don’t know how they handled it,” she said. “There was no written policy left for us.”
Matteucci said investigators and prosecutors at the office carried over from the previous administration are also unaware of any previous review process.
As part of the new review process, Pattillo called in chief assistant district attorney Cheveda McCamy as well as two investigators to review evidence and findings from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and decide whether the use of force was justified.
One of the investigators, Bernard Monti, a chief defensive tactics instructor and an expert on use of force, said the review panel considers all the evidence objectively.
“We’re not supposed to use 20/20 hindsight, because different officers may act differently,” he said. “You have to take into account the totality of the situation.”
Following common practice, the GBI was called in to investigate the three incidents. The agency collects evidence and conducts interviews with officers and witnesses, compiling it into a case file which it presents to the district attorney’s office.
The district attorney reviewed three police-involved deaths recently and found the officers’ actions were justified.
• On May 14, 2016, Henry County police fatally shot a barricaded man in Stockbridge after he refused to drop his weapon and fired a shotgun at the officers.
• On Nov 12, 2016, McDonough police used a Taser on a combative robbery suspect. Medical results showed the man died from “excited delirium” as as a result of methamphetamine. The Taser reportedly was not a factor in the death.
• On Dec. 13, 2016, Henry County police responded to a domestic dispute and fatally shot a man who reportedly refused to put the gun down, even after police used a Taser on him.
The new policy comes at a time when the justifiability of police shootings has come under question. And while few officers are ever indicted by grand juries in Georgia, the new review process could decide whether a case will even reach a jury.
“[The new review process] could affect whether criminal charges can be and should be pursued,” Pattillo said.
But Pattillo emphasized that the review process is rigorous and complete.
“That’s the whole point of the process that we’re consistent, and that we’re transparent to the citizens, so they have confidence that this is a thorough process,” he said.
So far, Pattillo said his office has received positive feedback from citizens about the new process and the office publicly announcing its findings.
“People are most satisfied when they feel their elected officials are being transparent,” he said.
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