N.J. lawmakers advance bill requiring AG probe of deaths in police custody to Murphy

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Lawmakers in New Jersey have approved a bill that would require the state attorney general to investigate any deaths that occur while suspects are in police custody or during an interaction with police. Activists who say local prosecutors cannot impartially investigate police officers they regularly work with are gratified with the move.

Yet state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, the man who would find himself in a newly powerful role should the bill become law, said it could damage faith in the justice system.

“This bill may, in the end, undermine public trust in law enforcement and will replace a system that already does everything the sponsors seek to accomplish and more,” Grewal said in testimony before the Legislature earlier this month.

Now his boss, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, will have to decide between siding with Democrats proposing the bill or his own attorney general.

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A spokesperson would not say whether Murphy would sign the bill but said he does not comment on specific or pending legislation.

During a public hearing last month, faith leaders and criminal justice advocates praised a measure they said would give communities more faith in investigations of police violence.

“This bill is needed because, like every institution where human interaction is at the forefront, there is a susceptible element of perceived corruption that can exist,” said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, D-Essex, who sponsored the legislation.

But Grewal suggested it would signal that prosecutors are incapable of prosecuting law enforcement officials in their own county, an idea he said was untrue.

Grewal also pointed to a state attorney general’s directive from a few years ago that he said ensures that any deaths in police custody are investigated thoroughly and scrutinized for any conflicts of interest.

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