February 5, 2015

Lujan Grisham: special prosecutors for police shootings

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Police officer on radioU.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she is co-sponsoring legislation that would call for special prosecutors to cases where police fatally shoot someone.

Lujan Grisham is a Democrat who represents Albuquerque, a city that has seen a spate of shootings by police in recent years.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Henry “Hank” Johnson, D-Ga., would a special prosecutor to handle fatal shootings by police officers. Lujan Grisham’s press release says the preliminary hearing would be open to the public unless the presiding judge decides to close the hearing.

Earlier this year, District Attorney Kari Brandenburg charged two officers with murder in the killing of a homeless man who was illegally camping. They are the first Albuquerque Police Department officers to be charged in an on-duty shooting.

However, shorty after Brandenburg announced she was considering charges — before she formerly charged the two in the shooting — APD investigated Brandenburg on bribery and intimidation charges. Brandenburg denied the charges.

“It’s important to remove these conflicts of interest, and just as important, to hold public preliminary hearings in order to remove the shroud of secrecy inherent in the grand jury process,” Rep. Lujan Grisham said in a statement to the media.

“The spike in police-involved shootings in Albuquerque and across the country has eroded the public’s trust in law enforcement,” Lujan Grisham continued. “I want to turn that around. In addition to reforming local police agencies and providing better training for officers, we need an independent and objective review of these shootings to regain the public’s trust.”

APD was the subject of investigation by the Department of Justice. The DOJ found a pattern of unconstitutional policing including a number of shootings that the DOJ found to be questionable.

In a previous grand jury process, since scrapped, prosecutors were unable to bring charges against police officers in shootings.

The head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., told The Hill that there is often too close a relationship between district attorneys and police.

Butterfield was not clear on who would appoint the special prosecutor — floating the idea of a chief justice or governor — but Lujan Grisham’s press release said the governor would appoint the special prosecutor.

While Albuquerque has received some attention on police shootings, the issue jumped into the national forefront following the August, 2014 shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Many have criticized the grand jury process used in investigating that shooting.

The officer, Darren Wilson, was not charged with any crimes.

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