The police agency with jurisdiction over the location of the shooting or death conducts the primary investigation of the incident. After the police agency completes their investigation, the District Attorney’s Office reviews it, which it does for all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths in San Diego County. If the District Attorney wants additional information to supplement the investigation, a request can be made to the jurisdictional agency to obtain the information, or the District Attorney’s Office can conduct the additional investigation. The District Attorney’s Office does not do a separate, new investigation of the incident.
Officer Involved Shootings
Frequently Asked Questions :
Yes. A District Attorney Investigator (DAI) with substantial training and experience in homicide investigation and use of force responds to the scene any officer-involved shooting or in-custody death. A briefing of the incident and a familiarization of the incident scene is given to all participating investigators. The DAI will identify any potential witnesses he or she discovers and point out any item of evidence he or she observes to the officer in charge of the investigation. The DAI will not interview witnesses and will not gather evidence. The DAI may provide advice or assistance if it is sought by the jurisdictional agency.
The purpose of the review is to provide an independent analysis of all police shootings and other use of deadly force to determine if the use of force was legally justified or not. In other words, was a crime committed? The review determines if there is criminal liability only and does not examine issues such as compliance with the policies and procedure of any law enforcement agency, ways to improve training, and any issues related to civil liability.
The investigations are lengthy and comprehensive. It takes several months to process evidence, compile forensic and laboratory reports, and conduct follow-up investigation. The Medical Examiner’s report is thorough and cannot be completed until it has toxicology results. As a result, the agency investigations and review by the District Attorney Office often take months. However, San Diego County law enforcement agencies have committed to having their investigations completed within 90 days if feasible, and the District Attorney’s Office has committed to having their review completed within 90 days if feasible.
The Special Operations Division of the San Diego District Attorney’s Office reviews officer-involved shootings and in-custody death cases The investigators assigned to the division are experienced and knowledgeable experts on homicide investigations and use of deadly force. Both an investigator and a Deputy District Attorney review each case.
If the District Attorney’s Office determines there is criminal liability, charges will be filed against the officer or deputy. If there is no criminal liability, a letter is written summarizing the facts, evidence and available statements of those involved. The letter is delivered to the Chief of Police or Sheriff of the jurisdictional agency indicating the actions of the officer or deputy was legally justified.
Once the District Attorney’s review is completed and an officer or deputy’s actions are deemed to be legally justifiable, basic information including the name of the individual(s) involved, law enforcement agency, incident date and letter date are posted on the DA’s website. Copies of the letters are provided to the news media. Members of the public can request a copy of a letter from the law enforcement agency named in the letter. If it’s not available from the law enforcement agency, the public may email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy.
In August 2016, the Chiefs of Police, the Sheriff, and the District Attorney finalized a policy for release of video evidence. This policy allows limited release of law enforcement video evidence along with the officer-involved shooting letter to the media, if the officer or deputy was found to have acted in a legally justifiable manner in the incident. The video evidence could include body worn camera recordings, law enforcement helicopter recordings, dashboard camera footage, private citizen cell phone video, and security camera video footage. The goal in releasing the footage is to explain the circumstances at the time deadly force was used and to be transparent about the analysis of the shooting. The faces of all individuals in the video recordings are blurred prior to release.
Generally, video is not released until the District Attorney’s review is complete because it could become evidence in a criminal proceeding.
The District Attorney’s Office will not release video evidence until any criminal case, whether against the officer or another person, is concluded, because it could potentially interfere with the defendant’s right to a fair trial. However, there may be instances where video footage is shown as evidence in a criminal proceeding, open to the public and such video may be seen publicly if it is broadcast as part of the proceedings or made part of the court record. In these instances, the faces of those involve may or may not be blurred.
The Department of Justice (FBI) has started doing a concurrent review of officer-involved shootings to determine if an individual’s civil rights were violated. The City of San Diego has a Citizens Review Board on Police Practices, which reviews these types of incidents to see if policies and practices were followed, as does the County’s Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board.
The Office of the District Attorney has conducted reviews of all officer involved shootings
(OIS) in the line of duty by San Diego County peace officers since the mid-1970's. In 2006,
a revised Protocol for Investigation and Review of Officer Involved Shootings and Other Uses of
Force Resulting in Death was was signed by the District Attorney, the Sheriff,
the Warden at Donovan State Prison and the Chiefs of all the local
law enforcement agencies in San Diego County, including the Border Division of the CHP.
The purpose of the District Attorney's review is to provide an independent review of all shootings and other use of deadly force, fatal and non-fatal, to assure the public that peace officers in San Diego County are performing their duties in a legally justified manner. This review does not examine such issues as compliance with the policies and procedures of any law enforcement agency, ways to improve training, or any issues related to civil liability.
Upon completion of the District Attorney's review, a letter summarizing the facts and statements of the deputy or officer and other witnesses is written and delivered to the Chief or Sheriff. Below is a list of letters submitted by the DA, including the name of the individual involved, the law enforcement agencies involved and the date of the incident.
In an effort to better understand how and why officer-involved shootings happen, the District Attorney’s Office has compiled a report covering a 20 year period from 1993-2012 and a total of 358 officer-involved shooting events. The majority of the information comes from reports compiled by law enforcement investigators, forensic analysts, and medical examiners. Some of the information is contained in the letters sent to law enforcement agencies by the SDCDA summarizing the facts and legal analysis of shootings. Some additional information was obtained from the various law enforcement agencies, in particular the San Diego Police Department’s officer-involved shooting database. Click here to read the Officer-Involved Shooting Review Report.
A copy of these letters may be obtained from the law enforcement agency that received the letter. If it is not available from the agency, contact District Attorney Communications Director Steve Walker by email.
Brian Lee Olsen