A former Yuba County district attorney is hosting an officer-involved shooting investigation training program for hundreds of California prosecutors in October.
Pat McGrath, who served as district attorney for 32 years, will be hosting the summit along with a Sacramento State adjunct professor, as part of the California District Attorney’s Association. Current Yuba County District Attorney Chief Investigator Stephanie Johnson will also lead a panel at the training.
Topics will include current fourth amendment law, structure of an officer-involved shooting investigation team, critical investigative elements, implicit bias, and compassion fatigue and prevention.
McGrath, who spoke in his capacity as former DA and not with the DA Association, said the topic is a “huge deal” up and down the state, and that Yuba-Sutter has set a precedent.
“We’re kind of unique,” McGrath said. “We have this blended team between Yuba and Sutter … I had the assumption that this was the standard model in the state, and it’s not.”
Each county can choose its own method into investigating officer-involved shootings, though it can bring with it questions of objectivity if members of the shooting agency investigating their own (like in Los Angeles County). In some counties, the District Attorney’s Office conducts all OIS investigations.
When an officer-involved shooting occurs, four investigations run parallel: one by the venue agency into the action of the suspect(s); one by the OIS team into the actions of the officer(s); a risk management investigation by the employing agency; and a professional standards investigation. The Yuba-Sutter OIS team was formed in 2015 and is made up of investigators from both the Sutter County and Yuba County district attorney’s offices, the Sutter County and Yuba County sheriff’s offices, and the Yuba City Police Department.
McGrath said some of the topics discussed in the summit will cover force analysis (the breakdown from physics and physiology of what happens during a shooting), how an officer’s perspective and senses can change with a flood of adrenaline, and bias-based policing.
“A lot of things caught on body cams are an accurate portrayal of what happened, but not of what an officer was seeing at the time,” McGrath said. Participants will also get the chance to view numerous videos of officer-involved shootings from throughout the country, and break them down from a legal standpoint.
The use of cellphone footage in officer-involved shootings in recent years has made the issue part of public conversation. McGrath said this perception has affected legislation (like AB 392, which vaguely changed the use of force from reasonable to necessary) and OIS investigations.
“In the last two years, from a public standpoint, the real focus is on, was the shooting necessary? That is the kernel question everybody asks,” McGrath said. “To some extent, that public perception flies against what the U.S. Supreme Court has said – that you can’t judge a shoot from hindsight.”
While investigations into OIS aren’t public, district attorney reports are, which is why McGrath, and current District Attorney Clint Curry, have released multiple-page reports.
“I’ve always tried to give as much information minute-by-minute because I understand it’s the only opportunity the public will have to really know what happened,” he said. “The idea is that these decisions we’re making are not simply for the agency; they really are for the public and if we expect to maintain trust and credibility, the only way we can do that is to provide as much information as we can.”
The training in Orange County is slated for Oct. 7-9.