When Gulf War veteran Parminder Shergill was killed by gunshots fired by two Lodi police officers, the tragedy bred a hunger for facts.
Each release of information about the event has increased public understanding. But mistrust and skepticism persist.
It seems inevitable that if the officers are exonerated, suspicion will escalate — even if the officers acted perfectly properly.
That’s because release of information about this case has become a battle between beleaguered Lodi Police Chief Mark Helms and Mark Merin, a crusading lawyer who has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the officers.
This week Helms, wisely if reluctantly, released some additional information — a picture of the knife Shergill was said to be brandishing, audio files of police communications and reports of previous violent behavior by Shergill.
The public still hasn’t seen records of interviews with the officers or the autopsy report that might tell us about medications or other substances in Shergill’s system.
Helms is the keeper of the facts. Merin and the Sikh community must launch rhetorical attacks to get them. This battle leaves Helms in a very difficult position and adds to mistrust.
Some California cities — Berkeley and Los Angeles come immediately to mind — have commissions to oversee police conduct. Compared to those cities, police shootings in Lodi are rare. Big city solutions aren’t necessarily needed here.
But the Lodi City Council or the state Legislature could do more to defuse the inevitable anger that arises when a police officer shoots a citizen. If Helms were required to release certain information promptly and automatically under a new city or state law, he would be off the hook. There would be no expectation by his staff that he “protect the troops,” and the public wouldn’t fear that he was doing nothing else to further justice.
If police officers and their leaders were willing to try this, they would swamp political opposition here or in Sacramento.
The way things are now, we are fueling a dangerous and unnecessary mistrust of cops.