A grand jury report released on Tuesday calls for the Pennsylvania State Police to stop internal investigations of trooper-involved shootings, stating the agency’s standards are inconsistent and cause public distrust.
The state police have long held the practice of investigating shootings involving their own troopers. But the grand jury finds the state police have no written policy on investigating such cases, and they have no set rules in place to identify conflicts of interest during such investigations.
Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli challenged the state police’s standards after troopers fatally shot a suicidal man last May and the state police refused to turn the criminal investigation over to Morganelli.
The shooting was deemed justified, but the grand jury said the case raises “serious concerns and questions regarding the Pennsylvania State Police investigation, its policies and practices.”
The grand jury recommends the state police follow the best practices protocol published by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. The protocol requires an independent agency to investigate trooper-involved shootings and says the district attorney should lead the investigation.
Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said the protocol would ensure transparency.
“We feel strongly that our best practices protocol, whenever it can be implemented, is the way to go,” Long said. “The district attorney is the chief law enforcement office of the county and the investigation should fall under their responsibility.”
The state police attempted to shut down the grand jury review in November but were unsuccessful.
In the report the grand jury wrote, “The Pennsylvania State Police as an agency of the Commonwealth is not above the law. They are not immune from public scrutiny.”
The report also criticized the leadership of the agency.
“It became clear that PSP leadership have a somewhat arrogant view of superiority relative to other law enforcement agencies,” the grand jury stated.
State police spokesperson Ryan Tarkowski defended the agency and saidin a statement on Tuesday that they remain confident in their current protocol.
“Necessary protocols are in place to conduct all investigations in a fair, impartial, and transparent manner,” Tarkowski said in the statement. “The department has a breadth and depth of resources available 24 hours a day, seven days a week that is unsurpassed by any other law enforcement agency in the commonwealth.”
The grand jury report is not binding for the state police, but the agency says it will “review … and respond as appropriate.”