St. Louis police oversight board undermined, report says

A civil police regulator established in St. Louis in nearby Ferguson, Missouri shortly after Michael Brown’s death, was banned from reviewing all 21 fatal police shootings in the first four years of its existence, according to a report from the agency.

The report released by the St. Louis Civilian Oversight Board (COB) on Monday summarizes its activities for the period from 2016 to 2019 and indicates that the fulfillment of one of its main tasks – the review of gun investigations by officials – has been undermined.

COB Commissioner Kimberley Taylor-Riley accused a bureaucratic maze that follows police shootings. She doesn’t think the police are deliberately sabotaging the regulator.

“I don’t think it’s scary, I really don’t,” said Taylor-Riley on Wednesday. “It needs to be considered if there is some other way they can walk this case through the process and get us to a meaningful review.”

Brown was 18 years old when he was killed by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. The white officer’s shooting of the black teenager sparked months of protests. Although a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson, the shooting sparked a criminal prosecution review across the St. Louis area and led to numerous reforms.

Among other things, a seven-person civil supervisory authority was set up in the city of St. Louis, which began operations in 2016. The members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the city councils. The board can make recommendations to the chief of police, but has no direct authority.

The purpose of the procedure is to enable civil review of complaints against the police and the review of cases where an officer kills someone. A roadblock is the fact that investigative material is not handed over to the civil body until the departmental and criminal examinations have been completed.

The new report cites a complicated bureaucratic process that resulted in all 21 shootings involving deadly officers not being classified as “closed”, even five years ago.

The lengthy investigative process that follows shootings by officials includes an internal affairs investigation, an investigation by the prosecutor and police commissioners who set up a deadly armed forces review panel.

The COB report found that the Deadly Force Review Board had not met for more than two and a half years. It wasn’t clear why, but Taylor-Riley called it “one of the stumbling blocks” that thwarted civil review.

Mayor Tishaura Jones, a progressive Democrat who was elected and took office last month, is seeking clarity on the ordinance that established the Deadly Force Review Board “so the city can expedite review of deadly violence cases,” said spokesman Nick Dunne in an email.

Police spokesman Sgt. Keith Barrett said the department “takes accountability seriously”.

“We will continue to work hard to build trust through thorough and competent research,” Barrett said in an email. “We will work with the mayor’s administration, the public safety director and the COB to ensure that deadly police shootings and citizen complaints are resolved as soon as possible and made available to the COB for review.”

Activist John Chasnoff, who pushed for the civil service facility after Brown’s death, said the report provides evidence that police shooting investigations should be conducted from the start by an independent unit, be it civil inspection or some other facility.

“It is impossible for the police to examine themselves,” said Chasnoff.

Eighteen of the 21 people killed in police encounters during the four-year period were black and three were white, the COB report shows.

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