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Orange County DA Announces Protocol For Police-Involved Deadly Force

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After last year’s fatal police shooting of a man in Ferguson, Missouri, and after a man died in an apparent police chokehold in Staten Island, New York, the district attorney in Orange County has announced a protocol for officer-involved deadly-force encounters.

District Attorney David Hoovler, with the unanimous vote of the Police Chiefs’ Association of Orange County, has announced the establishment of a county-wide protocol for the investigation of incidents that involve police officers’ use of deadly force against citizens.

“I think with the things that have happened recently in law enforcement with Ferguson and Staten Island, the county had an existing policy that needed to be updated,” Hoovler says. “And what we did was we took a look at that and we decided to update it and make it more predictable, more uniform and transparent so that the public knows what is going to happen in a police shooting investigation before it happens.”

He says the policy changes the lead agency from police to the district attorney, and delineates the roles of each agency in such an investigation.

“I believe that most places across the country, they have some type of policy somewhere, whether it’s formal or informal, the issue is that most of the time it’s not accessible to the public,” says Hoovler. “We are going to make ours accessible to the public. It’ll be on the district attorney’s website shortly.”

He says the protocol should be posted in about two weeks. Randolph McLaughlin is a law professor at Pace University School of Law who specializes in civil rights cases.

“Well, I think it’s certainly a step in the right direction of transparency, but it’s not enough,” says McLaughlin.

McLaughlin in 1997 represented the family of a man who had been fatally shot by an off-duty New York City police officer in Dobbs Ferry, in Westchester County, over a parking space dispute. The police officer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. Outside of this case, McLaughlin alleges an institutional bias in cases where police use deadly force.

“And the problem that we have is that in cases involving police shootings, the very officer who has to prosecute those police officers, the district attorney’s office, had to work with them hand in glove on a daily basis,” McLaughlin says. “The call to the governor’s office and beyond is that we need independent prosecutors, whether it’s a special prosecutor or a unit within the attorney general’s office, that would take over these cases, where needed, to ensure that there’s not just transparency but the sense of accountability and some independence from the local policing authorities because these are sensitive cases.”

Hoovler talks about another addition to his county’s protocol.

“One thing that our policy added in was, with greater detail, a greater delineation of how public information is going to be distributed if there is a shooting,” says Hoovler. “It essentially, our policy says that the district attorney, the state police, or any agency involved, will jointly, within ethical guidelines for both the prosecutor’s office and the police, and without compromising the integrity of the investigation, will release information as quickly as possible to the public and the media so that we don’t get a false narrative.”

He says a case in Newburgh served as an example for the need of such information output.

“And we looked at a case from Newburgh a few years ago regarding the dissemination of information.”

That case centered on two Newburgh police officers involved in the shooting death of city resident Michael Lembhard.

New York State Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Margaret Ryan says the association’s board recently met and discussed the topic of protocol for officer-involved deadly force.

“We’re looking at putting together a model policy for release of information to the media for when officers are encountered with using deadly force,” says Ryan.

Any policy her association puts together would be available to members.

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