The Ada County Coroner and law enforcement in general have their work cut out to restore public confidence following the bungled inquest into the police shooting of 16-year-old Matthew Jones.
The case was a tragedy of errors and ineptitude almost from the beginning.
Police responded last December to a call for help from a father unable to control his drug and alcohol influenced son.
The boy had an antique gun with bayonet in his hands at the time he was shot and killed by Boise Police officer Andrew Johnson. The Coroner’s jury ruled the death as “justifiable homicide” based on the evidence presented.
Based on the evidence made public it is hard to argue the cop was not “justified” in shooting the juvenile. The jury did the right thing. They were about the only ones who did.
Here is a losing scorecard from the GUARDIAN :
–Police should have two man cars respond at night to any disturbance calls. That way officers can watch each other’s backsides, deal with threats, and not wait for backup. There is little “team-style” training at present. Our opinion is the officer was “shocked, scared, startled, frightened” and acted out of instinct. It was a reflex action to pull his weapon and shoot.
–Acting Chief Jim Tibbs went overboard in his defense of the officer and the “show and tell” press conference the next day was inappropriate. It is inexcusable the evidence was presented to the media before it was properly analyzed and preserved. That show led to a lot of rumors and speculation among the public and has left many with little or no faith in the police.
–It has taken the coroner 11 months to hold an inquest. He involved the Ada prosecutor who had a conflict of interest since the potential defendant was a policeman represented by the prosecutor. If a prosecutor needed to be involved, it should have been someone from outside the area with no ethical conflict. If the jury had returned a finding of an alleged crime on the part of the officer, the prosecutor would have “conflicted out” of the case like he did with the county commissioners civil case over a closed meeting.
–Coroner wasn’t forthright with the media on the questions asked of potential jurors after declaring he couldn’t get a jury due to media hype. The Statesman found leading questions about ACLU and Amnesty International had been added to the “standard” jury questionnaire. He was able to get a jury on the second try with 8 of the first 10 people interviewed.
–After the first inquest attempt was canceled, Mayor Dave Bieter revealed he had conducted private discussions with the family and the coroner and had urged the coroner to forget about the entire inquest and rely on the Boise Ombudsman for a finding.
–Instead of a fact finding procedure, the prosecutor presented the jury that was finally impaneled with a prosecution of the deceased.
–The officer claimed the boy had “nicked” him with the bayonet and police produced a Kevlar vest and uniform shirt with tears in them.
However the task force investigators who examined all the evidence and produced testimony were unable to explain how two inner layers of clothing were cut, but an outer layer fleece pullover had no damage.
Next day in the courtroom they used magnifiers and claimed to have found misplaced fibers of some sort. More doubts about proficiency, credibility and integrity surfaced.
–While professing to have no prejudice about the case and promising the citizens a fair and impartial look into the shooting, police command staff put the involved officer back on normal duty. If they had concluded the officer acted properly and violated no rules or laws, it was wise and proper to return him to duty…but why go through 11 months of investigations they claimed were “impartial?”
–If a teacher is the focus of a sex investigation he is removed from contact with children–with pay–immediately. Same should be true for police involved “critical incidents.” Take them off the street until cleared for duty. We shouldn’t be subjected to police who under investigation. That is why the investigations should be completed within 30 days unless there are extenuating circumstances.
The GUARDIAN frankly doesn’t have any compelling doubts about the outcome of the case, but there was little in this fiasco that would encourage the public to have faith in the actions of the Coroner, the Prosecutor, the police commanders or the evidence technicians.
We can all hope these officials will have a big meeting and work to prevent these errors in the future. You can also figure on calls for a medical examiner system from the Legislature.
Meanwhile Ombudsman Pierce Murphy will come up with a report and we hope to see some recommendations for two man police cars at night among other things.
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