In some states, police officers are allowed to have grace periods before being interviewed about a fatal shooting while on duty. This can be days or weeks — and activists and criminal justice reformers believe that it gives an officer and a department time to come up with a story or justification for the shooting, according to the Associated Press.
The latest example where an officer was given this “cooling off period” was the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson by former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean. Dean shot Jefferson while she was inside her home.
But before investigators could compel Dean to be interviewed, he resigned and was then charged with murder. This makes it more difficult to understand what Dean was thinking when he shot Jefferson, and perhaps face justice, the Associated Press reported.
“We laud police in this society as our protectors and purveyors of justice, and we hold them with such high regard, but when it comes to getting a statement when they have killed one of us, they are held to a lower standard than if we killed one of them,” Pamela Young, lead organizer for the Tarrant County Coalition for Community Oversight in Texas, told the Associated Press. “It’s nonsensical.”
The grace period allowed to officers is either laid out in state law or in department policy by unions. Some places allow officers to stay quiet for 24 hours — other places, two weeks.
In the case of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger fatally shooting Botham Dean when she accidentally entered his apartment, she would have been allowed 72 hours before having to face investigators, the Associated Press reported. It’s not clear when Guyger was interviewed after the shooting.
“Why are police, who are professionally trained to observe, to record material, to accurately and completely record all the material and facts of an incident, why are they excused from rendering their report and statement in the same timeframe as untrained, unprofessional witnesses are?” Bob Bennett, an attorney who represented the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Minnesota in 2017, told the Associated Press.