Pa. State Police seeks to shut down grand jury review of its in-house investigation policy

state police officers

Pennsylvania State Police's longtime policy to investigate trooper-involved shootings internally is facing challenge from the Northampton County DA. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, file)

When a Pennsylvania State Police officer is involved in a shooting, the agency’s policy is to investigate the matter internally, but that approach is currently being challenged by the district attorney in Northampton County.

The debate stems from an incident that occurred in May. When a suicidal man was fatally shot by state troopers, the agency declined Northampton County D.A. John Morganelli’s request to turn the investigation over to county detectives, according to the Morning Call.

Morganelli openly criticized the agency’s policy and announced an independent investigation. After a grand jury ruled that the shooting was justified, Morganelli asked it to review the agency’s internal investigation protocols.

Lawyers for the state police have called for the grand jury review to be shut down, saying the district attorney and the grand jury lack jurisdiction to weigh in on their policies.

Neither Morganelli nor the Pennsylvania State Police agreed to be interviewed on the record about the case, which was first reported by the Associated Press.

David Harris, a law professor at University of Pittsburgh, says the public deserves greater transparency around police shootings, especially at the time when they’ve garnered heightened attention.

“It’s not about the investigation technique or to say that we know of any wrongdoing,” Harris said. “The idea of investigating yourself always brings with it the potential for conflict of interests.”

State Police officials say their internal protocols ensure “thorough and transparent” investigations.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association issued a guideline in 2016, saying “officer-involved shootings should be investigated by an independent agency.”

With over 4,000 state troopers, the Pennsylvania State Police is one of the largest state law enforcement agencies in the nation, according to U.S. Department of Justice.

Unrelated specifically to this case, on Tuesday a state trooper was critically wounded in Northampton County during a routine traffic stop that turned into a gunfight when the driver unexpectedly opened fire.

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