The Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board is moving to prematurely end its investigation of 22 death cases, citing a California state rule that bars punitive action against officers if an investigation isn’t completed within a year.
The group tasked with investigating in-custody deaths and complaints against San Diego county law enforcement is on the cusp of dismissing 22 death cases without any investigation at all, reports the Voice of San Diego. The Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board staff is recommending the dismissal of 22 investigations involving people who’ve died in county detention facilities or while being taken into custody. It appears to be the first time that the board, created in 1990, has failed to issue findings in a death case. The board is set to make the final decision on whether to dismiss the cases on Tuesday. To justify the dismissals, the board is citing a section of the California Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights, which declares that “no public safety officer shall be subjected to punitive action” if an investigation isn’t completed within a year.
Many of the cases being dismissed involve serious allegations brought to light by civil lawsuits and media reports, including that law enforcement officials ignored repeated suicide threats from mentally ill jail inmates and a juvenile detainee, and used excessive force during arrests. A number of experts said the rule being used to justify the dismissals shouldn’t apply to the San Diego board and similar groups in the state that exist to monitor law enforcement. Barbara Attard, who served as San Jose’s independent police auditor and now heads police practices consultancy Accountability Associates, described what CLERB’s doing as “a mess.” “To just wholesale close cases, I’ve never seen an agency do that,” she said.