Pennsylvania’s state police force said Friday it will continue to investigate shootings by on-duty troopers, ignoring a grand jury’s recommendation that the agency step aside when a shooting involves one of its troopers and have an outside agency handle the probe.
Since most Pennsylvania municipalities either don’t have a police department or only employ part-time officers, Pennsylvania State Police “is the only police force with sufficient resources to efficiently and effectively investigate any officer-involved shootings” in those jurisdictions, the agency said.
The grand jury had urged Gov. Tom Wolf to force the agency to step aside and allow for independent investigation when a shooting involves a trooper, citing a national climate of “distrust of law enforcement” over police shootings and whether they’re investigated thoroughly. Guidelines issued by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association also say police shootings should be investigated by an independent agency.
State police have long insisted on retaining jurisdiction over probes of line-of-duty shootings by its troopers.
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In its formal reply to the grand jury, state police said that in consulting with prosecutors’ offices in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, “nearly all the offices expressed their approval of the PSP’s participation in the investigations of trooper-involved shootings.” State police also said the district attorneys association agrees “this investigative arrangement is the most practical and effective.”
Berks County District Attorney John Adams, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Adams’ counterpart in Northampton County, John Morganelli, released the grand jury report in early January. Morganelli sought the grand jury after state police refused to allow his detectives to take the lead on a probe of a fatal trooper shooting near Easton. Troopers shot and killed Anthony Ardo on May 20 after he ignored their commands and attempted to light the fuse of a firework mortar around his neck.
The grand jury concluded Ardo’s shooting was justified. At Morganelli’s behest, the panel then began investigating state police procedure on shootings by troopers, concluding after months of study that one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies is going about it the wrong way.
On Friday, Morganelli called the response from state police to the grand jury report “very weak.”
State police said they’re working with the prosecutors’ association to resolve the concerns of the “handful” of district attorney’s offices that want to do their own troop shooting investigations.
The agency said it agreed with a grand jury recommendation that troopers wear body cameras, adding it’s working on policies for their use. Wolf signed legislation last year that cleared legal hurdles that kept police departments from using the cameras.