(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) In the wake of an officer-involved shooting, members of the community often have questions about the investigation but little information is released until its complete.
Recently, a law enforcement officer shot a suspect Tuesday. In a joint press conference with the St. Joseph Police Chief and the Buchanan County Sheriff, the agency heads said that the person was a felon with outstanding warrants. The Sheriff and Police Chief also said the suspect was known to carry a weapon and was shot when authorities attempted to stop them.
But authorities have released little information since Tuesday. Troop H of the Missouri State Highway Patrol is now investigating the shooting.
When civilians are shot by a police officer or a county deputy, the case is immediately handed over to the Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control Standard to lead these investigations. This is the standard protocol for these types of cases.
Sgt. Jake Angle with Troop H said officer-involved shooting investigations are complex. He then detailed the Patrol’s role as investigator and why they keep the investigation close to the vest.
Why does Highway Patrol investigate officer-involved shootings?
It’s common practice throughout the United States for an outside agency to investigate law enforcement.
When officers shoot someone, the public has a right to expect a thorough and neutral examination, Angle said.
“We provide that service for a lot of agencies,” Angle said. “We don’t want to do anything that would cause any question about the integrity of the investigation.”
Was the officer justified?
In addition to public perception, Angle said it’s important that the process is done right and the officer’s action was legally necessary or justified by law.
“That’s the goal, you know, to investigate the scene, interview witnesses, gather the evidence, so there’s a crystal clear picture of what transpired out there,” he said.
The Buchanan County prosecutor will use the documents and evidence collected to assess the circumstances of the use of force incident and make a determination about charges.
Why little information is released
Angle said no two cases are the same but generally authorities don’t want to release information that could bias witnesses.
“It’s human nature to want to know,” he said. “People want to know and with social media, with the internet, people are used to instant information and that’s just not how the investigation works.”
For the Tuesday officer-involved shooting Angle said once the Division of Drug and Crime Control’s investigation is complete, the case will be handed to the County Prosecutor.