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Police Accountability Act aims for more independent investigation of deadly use of force

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The burden of investigating the use of deadly force by police will shift from state's attorneys in each of Connecticut's 13 judicial districts to a newly created Office of the Inspector General, under the police accountability legislation enacted by legislators in special session this week and sent to Gov. Ned Lamont for his signature.

New London State's Attorney Michael L. Regan sounded relieved at the prospect of relinquishing the task when reached by phone Wednesday. He said his office has been understaffed for a few years, and that the investigations are time-consuming. He added that the cases are a "no-win" situation for prosecutors.

"Conducting those investigations, we at times are at odds with the police departments and the victims and the victims' families," Regan said.

If the state's attorney determines the use of force by police was justified, the victim or survivors are dissatisfied.

And if the prosecutor finds the use of force was not justified, and brings charges against officers, the police, with whom prosecutors work closely to build criminal cases, are displeased.

Critics of the existing process, in which prosecutors investigate police, say prosecutors inevitably find that the police were justified, because they work hand in hand with officers on a daily basis.

"There's a brotherhood in policing, and also with prosecutors," said Tamara Lanier, vice president of the New London branch of the NAACP and a retired probation supervisor. "The system as it is today is not designed for prosecutors to investigate police and prosecute police themselves. The prosecutors basically need police to do their jobs."

She estimated that police were cleared by prosecutors in Connecticut about 80 times over the past 10 years.

Under the Police Accountability Act, a prosecutor still will be investigating police, but the law aims for a more independent process.

The Division of Criminal Justice will staff an independent Office of the Inspector General, which will be headed by a deputy chief state's attorney and perform its duties from a location apart from state courthouses and Division of Criminal Justice headquarters in Rocky Hill.

The new law requires the Criminal Justice Commission to nominate a prosecutor to serve as inspector general by Oct. 1. The Criminal Justice Commission will comprise the chief state's attorney and six members nominated by the governor and appointed by the General Assembly, two of whom must be Superior Court judges.

Chief State's Attorney Richard Colangelo had testified only briefly about the police accountability legislation during a daylong virtual listening session. His office could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. The division's website indicates there are five pending use-of-force investigations: cases from Manchester, Cromwell, West Haven, Ansonia and East Hartford.

The law also requires confirmation of the inspector general by the legislature's Judiciary Committee, a feature that Regan said might be an issue, since the state Constitution requires the Criminal Justice Commission to appoint prosecutors.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis projects the newly established commission, which will be staffed by employees from within the division, will cost an additional $50,000 to $100,000 in each of the next two fiscal years.

People of color, such as George Floyd, are at higher risk of being shot and killed by police in Connecticut and throughout the country, according to researchers. Lanier said she would have liked to have seen the investigations turned over to the state Attorney General's Office to be conducted by a completely neutral person unconnected to the state's attorney's office.

In New York, lawmakers last month enacted legislation creating an Office of Special Investigation within the Department of Law, under the attorney general, which will investigate and, if warranted, prosecute any incident of a person whose death was caused by a police or peace officer.

k.florin@theday.com

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