How are police-involved shootings handled in Albany?
A North Georgia man was shot and killed by a Gwinnett County police officer late Wednesday night. The fatal shooting comes on the heels of several recent incidents where police officers themselves were the victims of gunfire.
Law enforcement officials told us today that most officers never even draw their weapon. That's partly because one of the first things they're taught is that using deadly force must always be their last resort.
"Every officer involved shooting is going to be given close scrutiny just because of the fact that it is an officer and the public expects officers to use the greatest, I guess, discretion," said Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards.
Edwards says police officers occupy a unique role in the community as armed servants. "It's not a license to kill but it is certainly a very significant trust that we as citizens put into individual officers and the use of their weapons."
That trust means investigations into police initiated shootings are handled very delicately from the moment they occur. "We call the district attorney's office and the GBI," said Dougherty County Police Assistant Chief Cynthia Battle. "They take over the investigation and we take a support role from there."
The officer is placed on paid administrative leave so they are readily available to GBI investigators. "Once that information is gathered, then it is presented to the local prosecutor and of course, in this circuit, it would be me and then I would evaluate the evidence and determine what would be the next step," said Edwards.
That "next step" could be calling a grand jury, where a police officer has three options. "They can not come, they can come and not say anything, or they can come and say something," said Edwards.
There have been two fatal officer-involved shootings since Greg Edwards took over as Dougherty County District Attorney. Both, ironically, occurred on West Gordon Avenue. One involved an apparent armed robbery gone bad at a Family Dollar Store. The other happened at a private residence where an Albany police officer shot and killed a female reportedly engaged in a domestic dispute.
In both cases, Edwards found the shootings to be justified. "Every officer, just like everybody else, is entitled to use deadly force when he or she is being presented with deadly force," he added.
Officers are also encouraged to seek counseling through their human resources department for help in dealing with any emotional scars a shooting can leave behind.