Investigating and Charging Criminal Cases in Officer-Involved Shootings

When a police officer is involved in a shooting, there are two separate inquiries that result:

  • An administrative inquiry, to determine whether that officer followed department policies and applied proper tactics, and whether he should be subject to discipline for his actions (such as suspension, firing, reassignment, etc). The CCSAO does not play any role in this process.
     
  • A criminal inquiry, to determine whether the officer’s actions violated criminal laws and he should be charged with a crime. It is the job of the prosecutor to determine whether to file criminal charges. A criminal inquiry stemming from an officer-involved shooting has three phases:

 

Investigation: After a shooting, investigators gather facts and evidence, talk to witnesses, conduct forensic testing, etc.
In Chicago, IPRA (and in the future COPA) is responsible for conducting the administrative investigation of an officer-involved shooting.
Outside of Chicago, ISP’s Public Integrity Task Force (PITF) leads investigations. The CCSAO also works with non-CPD law enforcement (FBI, CCSAO investigators, etc) to conduct portions of the investigation.
An investigation can take days, weeks, or even months, as investigators work to find and interview witnesses, process physical evidence, and find and review video evidence.
Charging decision: Once the evidence has been collected, it is up to the prosecutor to decide whether criminal charges should be filed. The CCSAO is bound by state law, so the facts and evidence must be evaluated in light of the legal standards, to determine whether the CCSAO believes it can meet its burden of proof in a criminal case.
Note: under current Illinois law, there is no way to enlist a special prosecutor before a case gets filed. A special prosecutor can only be appointed by a judge; a judge only has jurisdiction over the matter once there is a “case,” and there is no “case” until a prosecutor has made a decision to file charges.
Prosecution of a case: If the prosecutor decides that charges should be filed, the person gets arrested, a case gets filed, and it gets assigned to a judge.
  • The first stop is bond court, where a judge decides whether the officer should be held in jail until trial, or can be released by paying a bond. The CCSAO does not control the bond decision; the judge does.
  • The CCSAO or the judge may request a special prosecutor at this stage if it appears the CCSAO may have a conflict that would make it hard to be fair.
  • The case then gets prepared for a trial. That process takes several months. If the officer is found guilty by a judge or jury, the judge will determine a sentence.

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