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Probes into officer-involved shootings like Lodi incident are meant to add transparency

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Posted: Friday, February 7, 2014 12:00 am

An extensive investigation is underway into the fatal shooting of a Parkwest man by Lodi police officers. It will include multiple agencies, exhaustive interviews and detailed analysis.

Such investigations, which are triggered automatically after an officer-involved shooting, often rely on officers investigating other officers. That prompts the question: How do agencies ensure that these reviews are truly impartial?

The current investigation centers on a fatal shooting on Jan. 25, after two Lodi police officers confronted 43-year-old Parminder Singh Shergill. Police say he charged at the officers with a knife. In the hours, days and weeks after the shooting, investigators from multiple agencies canvassed the quiet Lodi neighborhood near Peterson Park, searching for witnesses. A state agency will help collect and analyze evidence.

And when the investigation is complete — which could take several months to a year — the District Attorney’s office will produce a memorandum, detailing the findings and whether lethal force was justified.

“The intent of these protocol investigations is to ensure a thorough investigation is completed that addresses the concerns of the family, the officers involved and the community,” Lodi Police Lt. Sierra Brucia said in a news release.

Shots are fired, an investigation begins

Officers started en route to Shergill’s home around 9:06 a.m. after his mother called police, worried about her son’s mental state. The officers, identified last week as Cpl. Scott Bratton and Officer Adam Lockie, made contact with Shergill on the 00 block of Elderica Way.

Once officers fired their weapons, as with any officer-involved shooting within San Joaquin County, an extensive investigation would be put in motion, which includes the Lodi Police Department, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, the California Department of Justice, the county coroner’s office and the Lodi city attorney, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Ronald Freitas.

All of the agencies work in conjunction with one another throughout the investigation, which is led by a member of the police department and an experienced prosecutor from the District Attorney’s office.

Investigators are ‘held to a higher standard’

Meanwhile, in officer-involved shooting investigations, the District Attorney’s office works side-by-side with the investigating agency — in this case, the Lodi Police Department.

The District Attorney’s office has its own team of investigators, consisting of current and retired police officers from the county Sheriff’s office, Stockton Police Department, agencies outside the county and former Lodi P.D. investigators.

Five investigators from the District Attorney’s office are assigned to the Shergill shooting.

While none of those investigators are former Lodi officers, family members and attorneys in other police shooting cases have raised questions about conflicts of interest when officers — former or current — investigate fellow officers.

Freitas dismissed such concerns in this case.

“No, (there is no conflict) because they’re held to a higher standard and independently employed by the District Attorney’s office,” Freitas said.

Freitas said the D.A. investigators are in good standing within their departments and went through a thorough application and interview process.

Freitas said every interview with officers and civilians is either tapeor video-recorded and attended by investigators from both the District Attorney’s office and police department. Investigators from both offices will also attend Shergill’s autopsy, which hasn’t been conducted yet.

“It creates transparency in the investigation, which thereby promotes the transparency of the final outcome,” Freitas said.

He said that the Office of the Attorney General has twice reviewed findings made by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office in officer-involved shootings — most recently last year — and agreed with the findings in both cases.

“We welcome a review from the Attorney General,” Freitas said.

In addition, the police department will collect evidence, take part in interviews and map a scene of the shooting, which will provide further analysis.

The California DOJ will conduct forensic analysis, such as a ballistics report.

Public release uncertain

The District Attorney’s office will provide records, organize briefings, provide legal advice, answer any questions that arise within the investigation and provide a final review.

Last week, during a vigil for Shergill, attorneys hired by the family questioned the police department’s depiction of events and pleaded with the department to answer several important questions, such as the size of the knife officers said Shergill was holding, the distance officers were from Shergill and how many shots were fired.

The following day, Lodi police released the names of the officers involved and a brief synopsis of their history with the department.

Bratton has been with the Lodi Police Department since 2000 and was previously employed as an officer with the Manteca Police Department. Lockie has been a Lodi police officer since 1999.

It’s possible that answers to the other questions won’t be released at all, or at least not before the District Attorney’s office completes its report.

According to Freitas, it has not yet been decided whether the entire memorandum, which will include facts, applicable laws and reason for the findings, will be made public.

However, a determination of whether force was justified will be made public.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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