District Attorney Merriweather spoke after swearing in ceremony
Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather III said Friday he will seek an independent investigation whenever a police officer shoots and seriously injures or kills someone.
Merriweather will ask the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation to “conduct the criminal investigations of such incidents in Mecklenburg County,” according to a District Attorney’s Office news release on Friday morning.
“This new policy will take effect as soon as a protocol is developed that addresses many operational concerns, including standard procedures enabling local police to secure the scene until SBI investigators can arrive to assume command of the investigation,” Merriweather said in the release.
The SBI would then turn over the results of each investigation to the District Attorney’s Office “to determine whether the evidence supports criminal charges,” according to the district attorney.
In a video tweet at 4:42 p.m. Friday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said he supports the district attorney’s decision.
“This is a change the district attorney has determined is in the best interests of his constituents, and we’re going to shore up the protocol to support his decision,” Putney said.
Putney said he “continues to have confidence” in his officers’ investigations and is proud of their work.
Except for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, every police department in the county already calls the SBI to conduct such investigations, he said.
CMPD also is the only police department in North Carolina that routinely conducts its own inquiries of all officer shootings, The Charlotte Observer previously reported.
According to N.C. law, a district attorney can request the SBI to investigate such shootings.
In an email to The Charlotte Observer, SBI spokeswoman Anjanette Grube said: “If we get a request from say a chief or DA, we would get a concurring request from the other official. Either can request us.”
National experts recommend independent reviews, the Observer reported in 2016 after then-Mayor Jennifer Roberts called for such outside probes. Her remarks followed violent protests in the streets of Charlotte after the fatal shooting by police of Keith Lamont Scott.
No independent agency went to the scene until two days after the shooting, the Observer reported at the time. The SBI came in to investigate only after Scott’s family requested an independent investigation.
In a 2015 report, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing urged law enforcement agencies to mandate independent investigations in police shootings, the Observer also reported in 2016.
“This move will now ensure that an independent authority will similarly investigate all officer-involved shootings within Mecklenburg County,” the district attorney said in Friday’s release.
“CMPD has conducted professional and extraordinarily thorough investigations of shootings involving the department’s officers, and the District Attorney’s Office has been confident in the integrity of those investigations,” he said.
“Nevertheless, just as we counsel our prosecutors and staff against the appearance of a conflict of interest, we must do what we can to ensure we avoid perceived conflict in these investigations whenever possible,” he said. “The criminal justice system cannot – and should not – function without public confidence.”
Merriweather said Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board recently invited him to its Aug. 27 meeting to discuss the board’s recommendation for independent investigations of such shootings.
He said in Friday’s statement that he has explored the option for months and is developing a plan to start it.
Merriweather also said he notified SBI Director Bob Schurmeier and Putney of his decision.
Efforts to obtain comment from CMPD public information officers and SBI officials Friday were unsuccessful.
In July, the Observer reported that members of the Citizens Review Board were surprised by Putney’s willingness to listen to their ideas.
Board members recently proposed significant policy changes, including having outside investigations of police shootings, the Observer previously reported.