No matter how much integrity and experience the State Police investigators have, no matter how above-board and thorough they are and how many resources they deploy, the public will always be left with lingering doubts.
Did they do all they could to get to the bottom of an investigation into a police shooting of a civilian?
Once again, the state attorney general’s office is being handcuffed by the limits of an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo two years ago that limits its ability to independently investigate police-involved shootings to only incidents in which the victim was unarmed.
That means only local State Police, with a review by the local district attorney’s office, will be looking into the shooting in which Glenville Police shot and killed Shenendehowa fifth-grade school teacher Brian Skinner during a call alleging domestic violence. A Glenville police officer was also shot, apparently by another officer at the scene.
Glenville police say Skinner came at them with a knife when they approached him at his home on the night of July 28. Since he was armed in some way, the attorney general’s office can’t legally conduct its own independent investigation of the case.
In most cases involving an officer facing off against an armed suspect, the shooting is likely justified. Police have a right to protect themselves and other citizens against an attack by an armed suspect.
But just because a suspect is armed doesn’t automatically absolve officers of culpability in an incident. Did the officers react too quickly or overreact to the threat? Could they have used other, non-lethal means to subdue the suspect? Could they have avoided the entire confrontation by surrounding the house and waiting him out, communicating with the man by phone, or otherwise finding a way not to put themselves and the man in harm’s way.
These are questions that would come up in an investigation into a police shooting, whether the victim of the shooting was armed or not.
Do police cover up for one of their own in such cases? Is the blue wall high enough to make excuses for a police shooting gone bad?
We’re not saying this is what happened here. Or that it happens at all. And police and their defenders should not consider this to be an indictment of all officers in all shooting in which they face a suspect. Their job is dangerous and difficult enough.
But if one steps back from the situation a bit, these are legitimate questions that one could raise.
And because such questions exist, it’s in the best interests of the public, the police and the victim that the investigation is as clear of impropriety and favoritism as possible.
We’ve said it before and we say it again -- all police fatal shootings, regardless of whether the victim was armed or not -- should be subject to an independent investigation by the attorney general’s office.
When it comes to the relationship between police and the public, there should be left no room for doubt.