The Washington Post examined over 50 civil rights cases against officers and found that charges were filed, on average, more than three years after the event.
For example, Eric Garner, who had asthma, was killed in 2014 by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who along with others tackled him to the ground and put him in a chokehold until Garner couldn’t breathe. When the officer wasn’t indicted, a civil rights case was opened. There are still no charges filed, four years later.
In 2016, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review studied over 13,000 misconduct cases submitted to the Justice Department over 20 years, and found that 96 percent of cases had no charges filed.
The list of people include Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and more.
Brittany Packett, activist and former appointed member of the Ferguson Commission and President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has said, historically, less than one percent of the officers who shoot Black people are ever convicted of that crime.
Walter Scott, driving with a broken tail light, was shot while running away from North Charleston police officer, Michael Slager. Two years later, the officer plead guilty to violation of civil rights by acting under the color of law.
Alton Sterling was killed by Baton Rouge officers who had pinned him down and shot him in July 2016. In May 2017, federal prosecutors said they wouldn’t file civil rights charges against the officers. In March 2018, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced no charges would be filed either.
“The bottom line is there’s no pressure,” said Roy L. Austin Jr., formerly a top official in the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department (and attorney for the family of Bijan Ghaisar, who was shot and killed by park police last November).
“They don’t care how long it takes because there is no one telling them they need to get it done sooner. So they aren’t concerned about the impact it may have on the community or the impact it may have on the family. That’s just their way, because they are answerable to no one except their immediate bosses.”
Federal investigator agencies don’t have confrontations at community meetings, politicians holding them accountable with real consequences, or overwhelming angry emails.
The DOJ’s statement: “It is important to understand that ‘color of law’ cases in particular have an extremely high burden of proof and it takes time to put together an airtight prosecution. Every single color of law case is unique and length depends on a plethora of factors, including: available evidence, the number of witnesses and subjects, local procedures, and grand jury availability.”
A cumbersome process noted by approvals of witnesses and scheduling is part of the issue, but there’s also an avoidance of controversy.
“There’s first of all the general reluctance on the part of prosecutors to go after people in law enforcement because they consider themselves all working on the same team,” said Tim Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at Cato Institute, a think-tank in Washington that advocates for smaller government.
Ronald T. Hosko, a former FBI agent and president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, which helps officers who need financial or legal assistance in such cases said of the DOJ, “They take their time. There’s no rush, and I think some of that is tactical. They’re trying to be thorough. But as time goes by, some of the heat is taken out of the community and then they give you the result nine months later.”