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Friday, January 12, 2007

Talk or no talk

For Police Involved in Fatal Shooting, Talking May Be Risky

Published: January 12, 2007

The decision by four of the five police officers involved in the killing of an unarmed Queens man to voluntarily speak to prosecutors, giving investigators their version of events for the first time, poses certain risks for both sides, lawyers and legal experts say.

By voluntarily talking with prosecutors, officers can often try to gain points as well as offer insights into their state of mind during a shooting, the experts said. The biggest risk to a police officer, however, is that once he tells a story, he is married to it and can only change it later at his peril. Prosecutors can attack any inconsistencies during subsequent grand jury proceedings or at trial, some defense lawyers and former prosecutors said.

While prosecutors face few pitfalls in questioning officers in such cases — either before a grand jury proceeding, during it, or at both times — they risk criticism doing it beforehand because of the potential for cozy dealings between prosecutors and the police, legal analysts said.

Michael Hardy, a lawyer for the family of Sean Bell, the Queens man who was killed, said yesterday that he was concerned by the officers parading in, one after another, to tell their stories to prosecutors in the office of the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown. Mr. Bell died in a hail of 50 police bullets on Nov. 25, just hours before he was to be married.

“What does concern me is to the extent that such meetings would have some undue influence on the prosecutors and how they present it to the grand jury,” Mr. Hardy said. “It has the appearance of impropriety only because of the general suspicion that exists within the general public about the closeness of the relationship between the district attorney and the police. And that is why it boils down to whether or not there is real integrity to the investigation, because it really will depend on how they use the information the officers give and how aggressively they use it in the grand jury.”

Those who represent the Bell family as well as the two men who were wounded in the shooting have also expressed outrage over what they see as a basic weakness in the criminal justice system: that district attorneys investigate cases of excessive use of force by the police, with whom they must work every day

posted by Steve @ 12:53:00 AM

12:53:00 AM

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