D.A.’s Probes of Shootings Criticized


As a matter of policy, the Orange County district attorney’s office routinely investigates all cases in which a police officer shoots and wounds or kills someone.

Despite an increasing number of such shootings, from about 10 each year in the early 1980s to 30 in 1990, the district attorney’s office has not filed criminal charges against an on-duty officer for a shooting.

Officials say that an investigation by an independent, outside agency such as the district attorney’s office should ensure that the public will have more faith in the outcome, and forestalls the criticism that comes when police investigate themselves.


Shooting victims and their survivors have criticized this process, however, maintaining that it is not independent enough. And police shootings have triggered numerous wrongful-death lawsuits, some of which have resulted in large settlements to the plaintiffs, even when there were no official findings of wrongdoing.

Basically, law enforcement officials say, state law allows police to shoot someone in self-defense, or to protect others when the officer has a well-founded belief that the threat of injury or death is immediate. If so, officers can use all the force necessary to end the danger.

Similarly, police may shoot at fleeing felons as long as the suspect, armed or not, presents a danger to the public or has committed a violent crime, such as murder, rape, robbery or mayhem.