Looks like a fully justified major vote of no confidence in the DA.
Chief says future probes of epd will go to Department of Justice
Chief Garr Nielsen of the Eureka Police Department announced Monday that the California Department of Justice, rather than the local Critical Incident Response Team, would handle any future investigations involving EPD officers.
Nielsen said his department “would still be active partners in providing resources to any other agency at any time when requested for major criminal investigations, but any case involving use of force or criminal allegations against our officers will go directly to DOJ.”
The decision, Nielsen said, is intended to increase public confidence in the outcome of investigations.
“DOJ has a great deal of experience in investigating these kinds of incidents,” he said, “far more than anybody locally, and I believe they have a greater level of expertise.”
While Nielsen did not specifically link the decision to the CIRT investigation of the death of Martin Frederick Cotton II, who died Aug. 9 in police custody, the chief said he wished he had sent the Cotton case to the DOJ.
“Not because I think necessarily they would have done the investigation any differently or any better, but I think having people at the (Humboldt County) District Attorney’s Office closely linked to the department could compromise the appearance of objectivity,” Nielsen said.
Chief Investigator Mike Hislop from the District Attorney’s Office was involved in the Cotton investigation and previously worked as a traffic sergeant for the EPD.
Former EPD Traffic Officer Wayne Cox also now works for the District Attorney’s Office as one of Hislop’s investigators.
When asked if it made him uncomfortable to have his officers investigated by their former co-workers, Nielsen said, “Yes. To some degree it does. It’s not to say they inherently have a bias, but I think it’s very difficult to take personalities out of it when you’ve moved on to another organization.”
Nielsen acknowledged that Hislop and Cox were not the only local players to switch teams, and said he believed the community would have more confidence in investigations conducted by the state.
“I think the DOJ will lend a sense of impartiality to these investigations that isn’t necessarily there with people who have associations with local law enforcement, either because they’re former employees or have close personal relationships within the agencies being investigated,” Nielsen said.
Written guidelines created by the Law Enforcement Chiefs’ Association of Humboldt, or LECAH, state that primary investigative responsibility for critical incidents lies with the “venue agency,” meaning the office or department within whose jurisdiction the incident occurs.
While the LECAH guidelines “strongly encourage” use of CIRT protocols for investigations, they make clear the venue agency is under no obligation to do so.
“The DOJ has always been an available player,” Humboldt County Sheriff Gary Philp said Monday, “and certainly they can be brought into an investigation. It really falls to the agency of jurisdiction to decide.”
Though he called including DOJ resources “a good idea,” Philp said his office would likely continue using CIRT.
But Chief Randy Mendosa from the Arcata Police Department left open the possibility that the APD might also use the DOJ.
“The amount of resources and the level of expertise of the DOJ investigators is quite impressive. The DOJ option was not available to us when the individual department policies and the LECAH CIRT agreement were written,” Mendosa said.
“I have not yet talked with anyone at DOJ about this issue, but if they were willing and available, I would certainly amend our department policy to include the DOJ option.”
Nielsen said he made the announcement within the department Thursday and notified the heads of allied agencies Friday. The change took effect immediately.