Special prosecutor for police shootings faces DA opposition

A proposal to require a special prosecutor appointment in fatal police shooting cases ran into stiff resistance Monday from Georgia’s district attorneys and top law enforcement officials who turned out in force before a Senate committee to voice opposition.

Roughly 20 district attorneys, the head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and leaders with the state sheriff’s association spoke out against a proposal that would remove local district attorneys from halding shooting cases where a citizen is killed by an officer.

The proposal is expected to go before the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil committee on Tuesday for a vote. Chairman Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, called the outpouring by district attorney’s as “problematical” for the proposal, but he would not predict how the vote would go. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter was among the elected district attorneys who spoke out against the proposal. He said it would remove district attorneys from their state constitutional obligation to prosecute criminal cases. He said if the provision were to be adopted the first officer indicted under the new law would challenge it on constitutional grounds.

Porter disputed any suggestion that district attorneys are too close to police and are reluctant to prosecute them. He said district attorneys prosecute police when they break the law.

“The presumption that there’s this special relationship is not borne out” by the facts, he said.

State Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, introduced the idea of a special prosecutor at the committee’s hearing last week. Ligon’s district includes Glynn County, where in 2011 two county police officers were cleared of shooting and killing an unarmed mother named Caroline Small.

Last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson had received the political endorsement of the county police chief soon after the shooting and cut deals with the two officers before the grand jury met to consider the case, giving the appearance of a conflict of interest.

That case and the reporting by the AJC/Channel 2 Action News last year that showed no officer in the past six years has faced prosection for a fatal shooting case were mentioned by witnesses who testified before the committee on Monday.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.