With the entire nation focused on the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers, we have to acknowledge that there are two such local cases that have lingered in limbo for too long and need to be resolved.
In two separate incidents last September, Gainesville police officers were involved in shootings that resulted in death. The GBI investigations into those cases have been completed for months, but no definitive action has been taken by the district attorney’s office based on the findings of those investigations.
There has been no announcement of a decision that the shootings were justified, nor has there been a decision announced to prosecute the officers involved on criminal charges. Since there have been no announcements of findings, we can only assume the cases have not been presented to a grand jury for review.
It has been nine months since the shootings and six months or so since the investigations were turned over to the local district attorney’s office for action.
Times editorial board
Norman Baggs, general manager
Shannon Casas, editor in chief
Decisions should have been made by now. The officers involved deserve to know their fate; the families and loved ones of the victim deserve to know the details of those investigations. The public deserves to know the details of the cases beyond the scant few made available by law enforcement spokesmen.
Instead, we do not know anything. Since no determination has been made on what to do with the cases, the investigative files are not available for review. It’s as though the shootings never occurred.
But they did.
On Sept. 20, police were called to the area near the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, responding to reports of a man with a gun. Multiple officers responded, and Adam English, 21, ultimately was shot and killed. Video of the incident widely circulated on social media appeared to show that his back was turned to officers when he was shot. The question of whether he was armed at that moment has never been answered for the public, though presumably that information is contained in the GBI investigation that awaits the district attorney’s action.
Just 10 days later, Raphael Michael Torres, 35, was shot and killed by a Gainesville police officer after threatening first responders with a knife and then, according to reports at the time, charging at police officers with knife in hand.
The GBI investigated the details of that incident as well, and the public still does not know what that investigation revealed.
In the English case, the family of the shooting victim has filed a civil suit against the department, doing so before knowing the outcome of the investigation and without full access to its details. In that litigation they contend the shooting victim was unarmed at the time he was shot. They also say he was mentally ill.
That there were two fatal shootings by Gainesville police within the span of just a few days is certainly not the norm. Unlike some other police agencies, local law enforcement officers do not have a reputation for frequent use of lethal force nor abuse of law enforcement authority.
Even so, the general public and all those involved have a right to know if the GBI investigations found the shootings to be justified, whether they might have been avoided with better training, or if criminal charges are warranted.
We aren’t suggesting that prosecutors should rush the process, as was done in Fulton County, where the district attorney charged an officer with murder before the GBI investigation was even complete. But the lack of any sort of action in either investigation is problematic.
Given the fact that all of law enforcement is under a public microscope these days, we wonder too if determining the fate of such cases is best handled by local district attorneys, who often have to work side-by-side with local law enforcement and face inherent conflicts in making such decisions.
There’s no doubt that putting local prosecutors in the position of deciding how to handle cases involving law enforcement leads to inconsistencies across the state, as evidenced by the Fulton County case being rushed to criminal charges in a matter of days, while two Hall County cases remain in limbo months after investigations have been completed.
If the GBI is used to avoid any potential conflict of interest in the investigation of officer-involved shootings, perhaps decisions on what to do with the results of those investigations should also be handled at the state level rather than locally.
But that is a discussion for another time. For now, we just need to know the findings of last year’s investigations and the fate of the officers involved.