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Conn. Chief State’s Attorney Backs Impartial Prosecutors For Police Shooting Cases

HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Law enforcement officials are changing the way acts of deadly force by police are investigated in Connecticut in light of high-profile shootings in Missouri and elsewhere around the country, according to the Division of Criminal Justice.

Prosecutors from outside districts where incidents occur will now supervise investigations and determine whether criminal charges should be pursued, according to a draft of testimony the state’s top prosecutor, Kevin Kane, expects to deliver to state lawmakers on Friday. Kane is administrative head of the division, which includes the 13 state’s attorneys.

While the division believes the current system for investigating cases of deadly force is “sufficient in terms of assuring complete and impartial investigations,” it recently determined the agency “must eliminate even the perception of the possibility of a conflict of interest,” according to the draft testimony. Currently, the final determination of whether the use of deadly force was justified generally rests with the state’s attorney for the judicial district where the incident occurred.

The division devised the new policy after reviewing policies and procedures in light of the shooting that killed Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri, and other incidents. According to the draft testimony, the division said it is “acutely aware of the concerns that have arisen concerning the use of deadly force by police officers.”

“There’s been a lot of public concern all around the country that obviously has spilled over here too that prosecutors who work closely with police departments have a conflict of interest if they’re going to investigate possible crimes committed by a police officer in that department,” Kane told WCBS 880’s Fran Schneidau.

The General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee has scheduled a public hearing on Friday to discuss a bill that would mandate all investigations of Connecticut police shootings and other incidents of deadly force be handled by a special prosecutor or a state’s attorney from a judicial district outside of where the incident occurred. Kane, who told the AP he supports the bill, is expected to testify. The written testimony, however, recommends the legislature take no action given the recent internal policy change.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, who proposed the bill, said current state law gives Kane the authority to decide whether to choose an outside prosecutor to investigate cases of deadly force. But Looney contends the practice should be mandatory. According to the Division of Criminal Justice draft testimony, it has rarely occurred.

While Looney believes most prosecutors are honorable, he said he worries about public perception when a fatal police incident is determined to be justifiable by a prosecutor who typically works closely with a particular police department in his or her region.

“There’s always suspicion it was a whitewash, even if it wasn’t,” Looney said.

He believes there’s strong support among lawmakers to enact the change in Connecticut law, Schneidau reported.

The Connecticut NAACP considers the bill a top priority for this year’s legislative session.

“There are a lot of issues around public trust and it’s extremely important that we have bills like this passed into law,” said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP. “The community doesn’t trust the police or the justice system and we have to instill trust and transparency to the justice system.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Connecticut and Wisconsin are the only two states that currently have laws requiring special investigatory procedures for police-involved deaths. So far in 2015, the NCSL said, at least nine states have proposals pending that address the appointment of special prosecutors or the creation of independent investigations of deadly force.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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