Toledo Legal News - News Bill would authorize state attorney general to investigate police shootings

 

A Cleveland state senator who proposed a bill calling for appointment of a special prosecutor in lethal shootings by police officers encountering unarmed suspects during the last legislative session is now sponsoring a measure that would require the state attorney general to do the work.

Sen. Sandra Williams, a Democrat, introduced Senate Bill 83 which establishes the duties and authority of the Ohio Attorney General to investigate and prosecute cases relating to the death of a person killed by police.

According to the bill, the attorney general shall investigate the death of an unarmed person caused by a police officer engaged in the officer's duties, regardless of whether the person was in detention at the time of the action resulting in his death.

If, in such an instance, the attorney general believes there is a significant question as to whether the individual was armed and dangerous at the time of the fatal action, the attorney general may investigate the death.

The bill would authorize the attorney general shall to conduct a full, reasoned, and independent investigation, including all of the following:

Gathering and analyzing evidence;

Conducting witness interviews; and

Reviewing investigative reports, scientific evidence, and audio and video recording.

More than a year ago and in the previous legislative session, Williams introduced Senate Bill 258 to require the Ohio Attorney General appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and bring forth charges in cases involving officer use of lethal force against an unarmed suspect.

The bill was modeled after an executive order initiated by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who declared all cases involving use of lethal force against an unarmed suspect must be reviewed and investigated by the state's attorney general, not a local prosecutor.

"Notable grand jury hearings have grown to represent a tool for faux justice, appeasing the public's cry for an investigation, while protecting the officer from a real prosecution," Williams said in a press statement at the time of the previous bill's introduction.

She characterized these sorts of shootings as rare and noted public perceptions of uncertainty and outrage.

"These cases, usually tried by local county prosecutors, do not alleviate the public's uncertainty," the press release continued. "In Ohio, we have seen this type of situation occur more than most other states; only California (17), Florida (eight), and Texas (six) had more officer use of lethal force against unarmed suspect cases than Ohio's five in 2015."

Senate Bill 258 gained no traction with lawmakers as it languished in the Senate State and Local Government Committee after referral.

The current bill calls for the attorney general's exclusive supervision and control of all investigations.

"In conducting an investigation, the attorney general and any assistant attorney general or special counsel designated by the attorney general has all rights, privileges, powers, and duties of a prosecutor, including the power to issue subpoenas and subpoenas duces tecum, to compel the attendance of witnesses, and to compel the production of records and papers of all kinds and descriptions that are relevant to the investigation," SB 83 detailed. "Upon the failure of any person to comply with any subpoena or subpoena duces tecum issued under this section, the attorney general, assistant attorney general, or special counsel may apply to the court of common pleas of Franklin county or of any county in which an element of the crime occurred for a contempt order."

The attorney general also would be responsible for referring evidence to a grand jury when it is determined prosecution should be commenced.

Upon successful indictment of an individual, the attorney general has sole responsibility to prosecute the case, the bill outlined.

In any such instance that the attorney general declines to refer evidence to a grand jury or a grand jury declines to return an indictment, the attorney general is obliged to provide a report to the governor.

Fellow Democrat Sen. Cecil Thomas of Cincinnati is sole cosponsor of SB 83, which had not been referred to committee for hearing as of publication.

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

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