John Wentworth: Nothing is hidden, although there may be costs associated with reviewing and copying the requested information.
There are certainly a lot of misconceptions about the criminal justice system and the work I do as a prosecutor.
Although working in a field well documented by movies, novels, documentaries and news media, some people draw conclusions about “the system” or my profession that are simply not accurate or even right. Resident of Happy Valley Kathy Chandler recently wrote an op-ed that provides a great opportunity for a teachable moment.
Ms. Chandler wrote, regarding shootings involving officers in Clackamas County, that the sheriff and I “refuse to provide evidence, every time”, and promises that, regarding a recent shooting, “no one will ever see the police original report… (or) view video footage.”
This is the teachable moment. There is no elected official who exercises more control over his power than the district attorney. We are elected by the people we serve, not appointed or “hired” by a faceless bureaucrat. No felony charge in Clackamas County is brought forward without first being reviewed and approved by a grand jury, a panel of seven Clackamas County residents selected monthly for this important task. Think of a grand jury as a citizen oversight committee acting as a power check on my office. Next, the district attorney does not decide the guilt or innocence of any criminal case. This decision is ultimately made by a judge or jury in the very public setting of a courtroom. Anyone can come watch. Although the district attorney will make a sentencing recommendation to the court, the prosecutor does not decide what sentence someone will receive; a judge does. Finally, almost all of the work we do is a matter of public record for everyone to see.
What most don’t know is that there’s no legal requirement for a district attorney to present all officer-involved shooting investigations to a grand jury. However, I do this because I believe this approach maximizes transparency and ensures that it is our community members who decide whether an officer’s use of force is justified in the circumstances. A grand jury review is, in my opinion, a better approach for our community, and our local law enforcement fully supports this approach.
Which brings us to Ms Chandler’s promise that, regarding the recent shooting involving an officer, “no one will ever see the original police report…(or) see any video footage”. First, a grand jury will hear sworn testimony and review video footage. Second, since I took office, we have concluded every grand jury review of an officer-involved shooting investigation with a report of the grand jury’s findings. Our reports are posted on our website (clackamas.us/da/reports) for public review.
Finally, at the end of each case, all police reports and recordings become public records and are available to the news media or anyone else who requests them. Nothing is hidden, although there may be fees associated with reviewing and copying the requested information. Records are not released until the case is closed to maintain the integrity of the review process.
The approach I take in shootings involving officers demonstrates that I have a deep respect for the people we serve and that I strive every day to do the work of the public in the open so that everyone lane – because it is the duty of a district attorney.
John Wentworth is the Clackamas County District Attorney.
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