California’s bill would give families more information after police killings

(LiPo Ching/Bay Area Newsgroup)

California’s bill would give families more information after police killings

California Politics

Brian Howey

March 12, 2024

Law enforcement investigators in California would have to change the way they interview the families of people killed by police, under legislation aimed at preventing officers from interviewing relatives before revealing their loved one is dead.

The proposed law would require detectives and prosecutors investigating a police-related death to read to the families of the deceased a list of statements similar to Miranda rights, informing them that they have the right to of their loved one, to remain silent, an attorney and know if they are being recorded before answering questions.

The bill’s author, Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), said it is an attempt to disrupt a common practice in California in which investigators interview the families of people killed in police encounters without interviewing them first. to inform of their relative deaths.

This is not the time for us to question those family members when they don’t even know what happened to their loved ones, Kalra said. I don’t think this is the morally right thing to do, and frankly I don’t think it’s good for public policy either.

The bill was introduced after an investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that detectives across the state had used death encounters as an opportunity to gather disparaging information about people killed or seriously injured by police, which law enforcement agencies later used to to defend the officers’ suspects. shootings.

In 20 cases the investigation documented, police and prosecutors from 15 law enforcement agencies interviewed families about relative alcohol and drug use, violent behavior, and mental health problems without first telling them their loved one was dead.

In cases where families filed suit, departments later used the information from those interviews to defend themselves in court, portraying the deceased in part as mentally ill drug addicts and cowardly parents to reduce the cost of damages or settlements paid to families .

Lawyers and advocacy groups specializing in police misconduct say the cases uncovered by The Times and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism are just a fraction of

what they say is

a routine practice. The article won a George Polk Award last month, one of the highest honors in investigative journalism.

The California Police Chiefs Assn. has spoken out against the measure.

Our peace officers depend largely on the support and cooperation of the public to successfully do their work, association president Alex Gammelgard wrote in a statement to The Times. Creating a sweeping mandate, even with good intentions, can undermine officers’ ability to gather crucial information in certain high-stakes situations.

A representative of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, one of 15 agencies that have used the tactic, said the agency has not yet taken a position on the bill. The California State Sheriffs Assn. did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.

Kalra said he expected resistance from law enforcement groups but is willing to work with agencies to find a middle ground that will protect families from deceptive lines of questioning without hindering investigators from doing their work.

Some investigators have likened delaying death notifications to a common and legally sanctioned tactic of lying to criminal suspects during an investigation. Current law does not prohibit law enforcement from withholding death notifications from families, even if they are not suspected of a crime. But some police experts say officers have a moral obligation to inform families as quickly as possible.

Rick Myers, a retired police chief and former president of the Major Cities Chiefs Assn. who has condemned the interview tactic, said that while he generally opposes legislation that would dictate police actions, this bill is an exception.

If you can’t police yourself and act ethically and humanely and with compassion in this industry, you run the risk of the Legislature telling you how to do that, Myers said. I think that’s what happened here.

San Jose parent Jim Showman said he worked with Kalra and Silicon Valley DeBug, a police accountability group, to draft Assembly Bill 3021 after Showman learned he was one of dozens of families who

objects of experience

the tactics.

After a San Jose officer fatally shot his 19-year-old daughter Diana in 2014, police took Showman to an interrogation room where detectives questioned him about his daughter’s mental health issues and violent outbursts.

Detectives waited 27 minutes to tell Showman his daughter was dead, according to a recording of the interview. Showman and his ex-wife filed a lawsuit but were unable to win any money in their settlement with the city, in part, he and his attorney argue, because of the information Showman shared with investigators. He had told them about his daughter’s history of suicide attempts, information prosecutors used to clear the officer of wrongdoing.

I can never bring Diana back, but hopefully people won’t be treated as such in the future, Showman said of the bill.

The tactic was taught by Bruce Praet, an attorney and co-founder of Lexipol, a company that hundreds of police agencies and district attorneys across the state have hired to train officers and prosecutors in police tactics and court avoidance.

In a 2019 webinar available on Lexipol’s website until early 2022, Praet encouraged officers to get families talking candidly before

inform them that they have learned

their relative is dead.

Before the dust settles, I want you to send me a uniform[ed officer]“Detective, I don’t care, someone out there, going to their friends and family to find out what they’ve been up to,” he said in the webinar.

Praet defended his advice in a 2022 interview with The Times, arguing that families are more likely to change their story after learning their relative is dead.

I advocate finding out the truth unbiased and uncontaminated, he said. Should not have to [investigators] Will you get that before this person gets infected and suddenly finds themselves in defensive mode?

Just before Reveal, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s radio program, aired an episode in November about Praet’s advice, Lexipol apologized and said Praet is no longer working with Lexipol. More recently, Lexipol spokesperson Shannon Pieper, when asked about this article about Praet’s advice, said:

It is important to note that the statements were not made by Lexipol employees and the tactics expressed in these statements are not and have never been reflected in Lexipol’s policies.

She added that the company is not taking a position on the legislation, but will monitor the progress of the new bill and, if it becomes law, make relevant changes to Lexipol’s policy guidelines.


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