Police Abuse

Take Decision to Prosecute Cops in Fatal Shootings From Local DAs and Give it to the AG, Says Local Mo. Rep


Jay Barnes

Two months after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a cop in Ferguson, Missouri, and as protests in the St. Louis area continue, a state legislator, Rep. Jay Barnes (R-District 60), wants to submit legislation that would remove the responsibility to decide whether to charge cops after shootings from local prosecutors and transfer it to the state attorney general's office. KMBC reports:

State Rep. Jay Barnes said he plans to file legislation during 2015 session that would give the state attorney general's office the responsibility for determining whether charges should be filed against law enforcement officers who fatally shoot people.

"There's an inevitable appearance of bias in a case where a prosecutor has to decide whether to take action against an officer who works for an agency that prosecutor works hand-in-hand with every single day," Barnes, a Republican attorney from Jefferson City, said Monday.

Handing fatal police shootings over to the attorney general's office won't eliminate the problem of law enforcement bias, but it does create some distance between the members of the law enforcement community being investigated and the members of the law enforcement community doing the investigating.

It also brings up the question of whether the decision to prosecute cops for non-fatal but questionable incidents should also be removed from local prosecutors (yes).

The Michael Brown also drew attention to the need for independent agencies to investigate cops, and not just non-local agencies . A piece in Politico by Michael Brown, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel whose son was fatally shot by cops, described his long and arduous campaign to get an independent review commission for police shootings in Wisconsin, something the state never had before. Bell used his portion of a settlement by police (a tactic often used to remove questionable incidents from judicial scrutiny, at the taxpayers expense) to help get a law passed.

Like other reforms aimed at improving policing as it impacts people every day, they can benefit residents, who receive some measure of protection from unchecked police brutality, and cops, whose image can improve on whose bad apples can be removed.

Check out more police reform issues here.

Update: Here's Barnes' column on the proposal, which ran last week.

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  1. Hell yes this should happen.

    1. Hell no it shouldn’t! Do you want someone deciding whether to prosecute you based on their perception of the polls and whether they want to be reelected?

      Let’s just suppose for the sake of argument that the Ferguson thing was in reality a legit shooting. No matter your views on it, let’s just propose for a minute that it is. Are we really going to say that given the political climate in Ferguson right now, that an Attorney General who is up for reelection and his career is on the line, that he can look at this objectively? The last thing we need to have happen is turn the criminal process into a political one where polls determine who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t.

      The only alternative to the DA doing it is when there is a shooting by a cop, appoint an independent non-political panel to determine whether prosecution should take place.

  2. NYC Reasonoids: MEET-UP ALERT!

    When: Thursday, October 16, 2014, 6:00PM
    Where: Rattle N Hum, 14 East 33rd Street

    Does this still work and coincide with Jesse being in town?

  3. Why would the state AGs, who are generally the most loathsome politicians in any state, make this any better? All turning it over to the state AGs would do is ensure that cases were tried only when doing so would satiate the mob or get the state AG elected governor. The guilt or innocence of the cop involved would absolutely have nothing to do with it.

    Under the current system the local DAs nearly always get it wrong but occasionally get it right by standing up to the mob for an actual innocent cop. Under the proposed system the state AGs would continue to get it wrong in all the cases that the local DAs are getting run and have the added bonus of making the few that are currently being done right into wrongful prosecutions and mob justice.

    Yeah, sounds like a great idea.

    1. It seems like removing immunity is the only thing that’s going to make the cops behave better.

      1. You mean people change their behavior when their actions have consequences?


        1. I know, I know. Shocking.

    2. Because there is a defined conflict of interest between the local DA and the police.

      1. This here. Its not just the “appearance of bias” (as Rep. Barnes rather delicately puts it).

        Its a full-blown, no kidding, disabling conflict of interest.

        Would the State AG be better at it? Maybe. At least there’s a chance.

        1. Just because the current system sucks does not mean that a poorly thought through change is more likely than not to improve it.

          The state AG office might be less conflicted, or because it’s an elected position more conflicted (need those LEO union endorsements to win elections).

          I think the incentives to greater independence would be to temporarily appoint a criminal defense attorney at random from some pool of volunteers who serve as an district attorney ad litem. Even that has flaws.

          1. What about the a normal grand jury?

        2. I fail to see how the state AG doesn’t suffer from the same conflicts. Moreover, the local DA is elected and accountable to the people of that community in a way the state AG who is elected by the entire state isn’t.

          Why on earth would you think state AGs would not be pro cop? Do you live in a fucking cave? Have you seen any of these assholes?

          1. The solutions you guys are proposing won’t change anything and you know it. The only thing that will is cops suffering the same penalties for illegal killings as everyone else. Not even our armed forces have the carte blanche and guarantees of immunity that cops have. It’s insanity.

            1. I am not proposing any solution other than eliminating qualified immunity.

              1. Well, ok then.

              2. I’m in favor of that, John, but the core issue here isn’t really qualified immunity.

                Its the systemic conflict of interest, where everyone who might impose criminal penalties on a cop is on Team Law Enforcement.

                It doesn’t matter what the penalties are, if nobody with the power to impose them is willing to impose them.

                I think the conflicts are worse at the local level, BTW. The AG, at least, might have some other agenda and other constituencies that might push him/her/it to prosecute.

                1. I think the conflicts are worse at the local level

                  Almost always so in my experience. The local DAs get elected almost purely on “law and order” campaigning and the police/sheriffs departments pretty much decide who gets the win through endorsements.

                2. I think the conflicts are worse at the local level, BTW. The AG, at least, might have some other agenda and other constituencies that might push him/her/it to prosecute.

                  Yes and that agenda is likely to be frying an innocent person to satisfy the mob. There isn’t a single upside to getting the AG’s involved. IF the case is so outrageous that even a state AG will feel the need to bring it, a DA will feel the same. The only time it might make a difference is the rare case where a local DA is willing to stand up to the mob. There, the state AG is almost certain to fold since state AGs all have higher political ambitions and only some DAs have such.

                  1. I’m not arguing, really.

                    I am wondering what difference it will make on the criminal side to get rid of qualified immunity for cops if no one will indict and prosecute cops, though.

          2. Why on earth would you think state AGs would not be pro cop? Do you live in a fucking cave? Have you seen any of these assholes?

            /looks at Martha Coakley for Governor sign visible from his cubicle…. sobs

            1. I am mostly a live and let live kind of guy. And I recognize that the world is not perfect, people are not perfect, and they never will be. So let’s all do the best we can, and get along as best we can.

              But Martha Coakley( along with Scott Harshbarger ) is a vile human being who has earned all the pain and suffering possible in this world. A couple of pipe hittin’ n*ggers with a blow torch and pair of pliers would be a good start. Just don’t let her die too soon.

              1. +1 Go Medieval!

          3. They should appoint a prosecutor to defend and a defense attorney to prosecute.

          4. I fail to see how the state AG doesn’t suffer from the same conflicts.

            (S)He suffers from different conflicts and there’s a reason to believe that the conflicts aren’t anywhere near as bad as wanting a DA to file charges against a guy he plays cards with on Friday night.

      2. Because there is a defined conflict of interest between the local DA and the police.

        That’s probably the standard way to word it, but the real problem is that their interests don’t conflict.

  4. We already have an objective agency to take care of this.

    If a cop shoots someone unjustifiably then have they not violated that person’s right to not be deprived of life without due process? They want to distort every other part of the constitution until it is unrecognizable but are unable to make this little stretch? I wonder what that means?

    1. Suthen, to the extent we have any civil rights now, they are rights to coerce our fellow citizens into doing/saying (or not doing/saying) some things. The model here, of course, is the use of force to require people to hire, promote, and contract with certain identified privileged classes of people, rather than merely prohibiting the government from discriminating against anyone.

      The notion that we have rights as against our government is long dead and gone.

      1. That was my point…sort of. The one office (USAG) that ideally should be prosecuting cases of state/local govt. tyranny is not doing so. It really was tounge in cheek. That would be like expecting a Tiger shark to come rescue you from the jaws of a white tipped reef shark.

      2. You still have rights.

        The question is how many cops are you willing to kill to enforce them?

  5. I thought grand juries decided whether to bring felony charges.

    It’s about time the Supreme Court, which has “incorporated” most of the Bill of Rights into the 14th Amendment as binding on the states, did the same thing with the 5th Amendment’s Grand Jury clause, by which you can’t be put on trial unless a grand jury has indicted or presented you.

    1. But Grand Juries do not spontaneously come into existence, they are called by prosecutors. So if no charges are contemplated, no grand jury. And, as is often pointed out here, grand juries are easily led.

  6. It often seems that the pressure to prosecute cops doesn’t arise in the most egregious cases, where one would think prosecution would be warranted, but in borderline cases where the “social justice” crowd is screaming the loudest, especially racially-tinged cases.

    1. Or when an expensive watch is stolen.

      1. The key detail in the “stolen watch” story is that the cop stole it from the PD, out of their evidence locker.

        1. ‘zactly…stealing from the Praetorian Guard is not tolerated.

        2. I still like SugarFree’s explanation: It’s hard to spin a story where the watch deserved to be stolen.

    2. I’m noticing the same thing.

  7. Anyone here subscribe to Guns and Ammo, and seen the editorials and letters regarding police brutality ?

    1. I don’t subscribe but am considering it. Is it worth it? What do the letters say? Don’t keep us in suspense!

    2. I do not and have not. Do you have any interesting gossip or are you just asking?

    3. Are they pro-brutality or con-brutality?

  8. Well, I hope Rep. Barnes doesn’t have any broken taillights.

    1. Even being a judge isn’t necessarily a protection.

  9. Meanwhile in St. Louis, 3 more murders. But hey, they weren’t attacking white cops, so who cares?


  10. Considering the awful history of AGs how would this not be even worse? Many AGs would just use incidents like Ferguson to get their names in the news so they can run for governor. The facts of an incident and justice wouldn’t matter. Bias by DAs is an issue but Grand Juries would be a much better way to handle this. Any member has to recuse themselves when they know anyone involved in a case being presented and you have a bunch of private citizens who can’t use their position to further their careers.

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