New procedure stresses the importance of transparency and allows public and media review
PHILADELPHIA (November 10, 2016) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today announced that he is implementing a new protocol to ensure public transparency and accountability whenever an officer uses his or her weapon in the line of duty. The protocol will guide the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s (DAO) investigation when a Philadelphia Police Officer discharges his or her weapon, whether on or off duty, and require public disclosure of the investigation and its outcome.
“Using a weapon is one of the hardest things that a police officer has to do, but too often after a shooting, the public is left with more questions than answers, leading to false accusations and distrust,” said District Attorney R. Seth Williams today. “This new protocol establishes a clear, transparent, and accountable process of review for every police involved shooting. Most importantly, it requires disclosure and explanation to the public of what happened.”
“Philadelphia has been fortunate because we have not seen the problems that other communities have,” continued District Attorney Williams. “I believe that is due to the high caliber and training of our officers and the work that my office has done to fully and fairly review any and all officer involved shootings. But doing everything right if it’s closed behind doors, isn’t enough – the people of the City of Philadelphia deserve to know what happened and why.”
The new protocol ensures an independent, fair review of every police involved shooting, transparency throughout the DAO’s investigation, and accountability once it is concluded. The office’s complete investigative file will be made available to the victim’s family, civil counsel, the public and the media for independent analysis. The complete investigative file will include all of the materials the investigative team considered, with the necessary redactions for the safety of the witnesses, minus the Assistant District Attorney’s work product.
“I commend District Attorney Seth Williams and his office for the tremendous work they have done on protocols for officer use of deadly force procedures,” said David LaBahn, President and CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “The procedures DA Williams announced today are forward-thinking and thoughtful, and will improve the manner in which these cases are handled from start to finish in Philadelphia. This means that the public will ultimately conclude that the process of officer use of deadly force investigations will be done with integrity and in the pursuit of justice.”
Some of the new protocol’s highlights include:
- A Special Investigations Unit Assistant District Attorney will be present at the scene after an officer involved shooting and monitor the Police Department’s investigation, independently review the evidence, and make a decision about whether to recommend if any law enforcement personnel should face charges or discipline;
- The District Attorney may visit with the decedent’s family members initially after an incident to explain the investigative process;
- If, at the end of the investigation, criminal charges are filed, the DAO will announce the decision and make information available to the public as provided by law;
- If criminal charges are not filed, the DAO will prepare a report detailing an analysis of the facts, the law of the case and the reasoning for the decision;
- The District Attorney will notify the Police Commissioner about the outcome of investigation and meet privately with the victim’s family to communicate the decision and the reasons supporting it; and
- The DAO’s report will be made available to the public within 60 days after the investigation is completed.
“The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association congratulates Philadelphia for its proactive approach in addressing the need for clear guidelines in cases of officer-involved shootings. We commend District Attorney Williams and the District Attorney’s Office for taking this step today to ensure fair and just outcomes. Seeking fairness and justice in our criminal justice system is always the right thing to do,” added Rich Long, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.
“These new procedures strike an important balance between protecting our community, protecting police, and protecting the public,” added District Attorney Williams. “By having an open, transparent and accountable process of review whenever an officer uses their weapon, the people of Philadelphia can be assured that we remain accountable to the people we serve.”
Parties interested in requesting a file to review should contact Chief of Staff Kathleen Martin at 215-686-8709 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The entire Officer Involved Shooting Protocol follows.
OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTING PROTOCOL
Types of Cases
The District Attorney’s Office will investigate every case where a law enforcement officer discharges a firearm in the City and County of Philadelphia. This includes on and off duty shootings, cases where no one is injured, cases where either the police officer or a citizen is injured, and cases where a police officer or citizen is killed.
The District Attorney’s Office also will investigate any deaths where the use of force by a law enforcement officer or correctional officer may be a proximate cause of death.
The District Attorney’s Office will lead the investigation in cases resulting in death, and will coordinate the investigation with the Office of the Medical Examiner and the Philadelphia Police Department, or other involved law enforcement agency.
Person Injured or Killed
The involved law enforcement agency will promptly notify the District Attorney’s Office of an officer involved shooting, or in-custody death. The Special Investigations Unit ADA on-call will respond to the scene in all cases where there is a fatality or person critically injured. The SIU ADA, upon responding to the scene, will speak with the Philadelphia Police shooting team, or relevant investigating authority and offer assistance.
In cases where a person is injured, the SIU ADA on-call will be available to receive and review paperwork and answer questions.
In cases where a person is killed, the District Attorney may contact the family of the deceased and invite them to the District Attorney’s Office to be apprised of our investigative process.
The SIU ADA will be tasked with determining the facts and circumstances of the incident, and whether criminal charges are warranted.
The ADA will review the evidence. It is the responsibility of the ADA to pursue additional investigative measures, and if necessary, recommend whether any law enforcement personnel should be charged with any crime(s).
As part of the inquiry, the ADA will monitor the Police Department’s investigation and obtain the Police Department’s report, witness statements, photographs, recordings, results of testing and any other relevant information. In fatal shootings, the investigator will obtain a copy of the autopsy report from the Medical Examiner. The ADA should ensure that a thorough investigation has been completed before results are presented further.
Additional interviews at the family’s request should be considered.
The ADA should conclude the investigation, including a grand jury presentation if necessary, as soon as reasonably practicable.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the ADA will present the facts of the case to the Unit Chief. The Chief and ADA will then present the facts of the case to the Divisional Deputy. The Deputy will present the case and make recommendations to the First Assistant, the Chief of Staff, and the District Attorney.
The District Attorney will make the final decision whether or not to charge. The District Attorney’s decision will be based on two considerations: the facts and the law.
Investigating Grand Jury
In an appropriate circumstance, the ADA may seek approval to submit the case to the investigating grand jury. The ADA will present the facts of the case to the Unit Chief. The Chief and ADA will then present the facts of the case to the Divisional Deputy. The Deputy will present the case and recommendation to the First Assistant, the Chief of Staff, and the District Attorney.
The District Attorney will decide whether or not to submit the case to the investigating grand jury.
After submission and completion of the investigating grand jury process, the grand jury, as permitted by law, may or may not issue a presentment recommending charges and may or may not issue a report of its findings.
Charges / Public Information
If the District Attorney decides to file criminal charges, the District Attorney will announce the decision. Information will be made available to the public as provided by law.
No Charges / Public Information
If the District Attorney decides that no criminal charges will be filed, the District Attorney’s Office will prepare a comprehensive report detailing an analysis of the facts and law of the case and the reasoning for the District Attorney’s decision.
The District Attorney will notify the Police Commissioner in writing of the decision.
The District Attorney will meet privately with the victim’s family to communicate the decision and the reasons supporting it.
The District Attorney will invite community leaders to inform them of the decision and the reasons supporting it.
The District Attorney’s report will be released to the public within 60 days of the completed investigation.
No separate report will be issued by the District Attorney if the case was submitted to the investigating grand jury and the investigating grand jury issued a report.
To ensure transparency in this process, following the release of the District Attorney’s report, the complete investigative file will be available to the family, and civil counsel if applicable. Additionally, the complete investigative file will be open to the media for independent analysis. The complete investigative file will include all materials considered in the case with necessary redactions, but will not include attorney work product.
Parties requesting file review may contact Chief of Staff Kathleen Martin at 215-686-8709 or Kathleen.Martin@phila.gov.