Clackamas DA: Public can view details in officer-involved shooting
There certainly are a lot of misconceptions about the criminal justice system and the work I do as a prosecutor.
Despite working in a field that is well-documented by movies, novels, documentaries and the news media, some folks draw conclusions about "the system" or my profession that just aren't accurate or even fair. Happy Valley resident Kathy Chandler recently wrote an op-ed that provides an excellent opportunity for a teachable moment.
Ms. Chandler wrote, regarding officer-involved shootings occurring in Clackamas County, that the sheriff and I "refuse to provide evidence, each and every time," and promises that, regarding a recent shooting, "no one will ever see the original police report ... (or) see video footage."
Here is the teachable moment. There is no elected official who has more oversight of their power than the district attorney. We are elected by the people we serve, not appointed or "hired" by some faceless bureaucrat. No felony charge in Clackamas County goes forward without first being reviewed and approved for prosecution by a grand jury, a group of seven Clackamas County residents selected each month for this important task. Think of a grand jury as a citizen oversight committee acting as a check on my office's power. Then, the district attorney does not decide guilt or innocence on any criminal case. That decision is ultimately made by a judge or jury in the very public setting of a courtroom. Anyone can come watch. While the district attorney will make a sentencing recommendation to the court, the prosecutor does not decide the sentence someone will receive; a judge does. Finally, almost all the work we do is a matter of public record for anyone to see.
What most don't know is that there is no legal requirement that a district attorney present all officer-involved shooting investigations to a grand jury. However, I do so because I believe this approach maximizes transparency and ensures it is members of our community who decide whether an officer's use of force is justified under the circumstances. A grand-jury review is, in my opinion, a better approach for our community, and our local law enforcement completely supports this approach.
Which brings us to Ms. Chandler's promise that, regarding the recent officer-involved shooting, "no one will ever see the original police report... (or) see video footage." First, a grand jury will hear sworn witness testimony and review the video footage. Second, ever since I took office we have concluded each grand-jury review of an officer-involved shooting investigation with a report of the grand jury's findings. Our reports are posted on our website (clackamas.us/da/reports) for the public's review.
Finally, at the conclusion of each case, all police reports and recordings become public records and are accessible to the news media or anyone else who requests them. Nothing is hidden, although there may be a fee associated with review and copying of the information requested. Records are not released prior to the conclusion of the case to maintain the integrity of the review process.
The approach I take in officer-involved shootings demonstrates I have a deep respect for the people we serve, and strive every day to do the public's work out in the open for all to see — because that is the duty of a district attorney.
John Wentworth is the district attorney of Clackamas County.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.