Grand jury calls for independent investigations of Pa. State Police officer-involved shootings

Report says Pennsylvania State Police standards for internal investigations of trooper-involved shootings are inconsistent and cause public distrust.

File image of Pennsylvania State Troopers line up outside the Blair County Convention Center in Altoona. (AP image)

File image of Pennsylvania State Troopers line up outside the Blair County Convention Center in Altoona. (AP image)

grand jury report released Tuesday calls for the Pennsylvania State Police to stop internal investigations of trooper-involved shootings, stating the agency’s standards are inconsistent and cause public distrust.

The state police have long defended their practice of investigating shootings involving their own troopers. The grand jury found, though, that the agency has no written policy for such matters, and it has no rules in place to identify conflicts of interests during internal investigations.

Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli challenged state police standards after a suicidal man was fatally shot by troopers last May and the state police refused to turn the criminal investigation over to county prosecutors.

The shooting was deemed justified, but the Northampton County grand jury said the case raises “serious concerns and questions regarding the Pennsylvania State Police investigation, its policies and practices.”

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The grand jury recommends the state police follow the best practices protocol published by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. The protocol requires an independent agency to investigate trooper-involved shootings and says the local district attorney should lead the investigation.

Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said the protocol would ensure transparency.

“We feel strongly that our best practices protocol, whenever it can be implemented, is the way to go,” Long said. “The district attorney is the chief law enforcement office of the county and the investigation should fall under their responsibility.”

The state police attempted to shut down the grand jury review in November, but was unsuccessful.

In the report, the grand jury wrote:  “The Pennsylvania State Police as an agency of the Commonwealth is not above the law. They are not immune from public scrutiny.”

The grand jury also criticized the leadership of the agency.

“It became clear that PSP leadership have a somewhat arrogant view of superiority relative to other law enforcement agencies,” the grand jury wrote.

In a statement, state police spokesperson Ryan Tarkowski defended the agency’s practice.

“Necessary protocols are in place to conduct all investigations in a fair, impartial, and transparent manner,” Tarkowski said in the statement. “The department has a breadth and depth of resources available 24 hours a day, seven days a week that is unsurpassed by any other law enforcement agency in the commonwealth.”

The grand jury report is not binding. The agency says it will “review … and respond as appropriate.”

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