Bill Would Require Special Prosecutor in Police Deadly Force Cases

Dec 19, 2014

An incoming Pennsylvania state senator wants to make sure there are no incidents in the commonwealth similar to those in Ferguson, Missouri and New York where local prosecutors investigated the deaths of citizens at the hands of police officers, and no charges were filed.

State Senator-elect Arthur Haywood (D-Montgomery) said Friday he will introduce legislation January 6, the day he’s sworn in to office, that would require the state Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor whenever there’s a deadly force incident and a police officer is involved.

“You know local district attorneys work closely with law enforcement, and that’s important because we want to prosecute criminals” Haywood says. “But at the same time [when] district attorneys prosecute or investigate law enforcement, there’s a perception of a conflict of interest or bias.  I want to remove that perception.”

He says his legislation is not meant to punish an officer for carrying out his or her duties, but rather provide a neutral review of the case and to restore “the shaken public trust in our judicial system.”

Haywood says lawmakers should demonstrate they are hearing and responding to the concerns of the public and that “families of victims should have peace of mind that the criminal justice system treated them fairly.”

Haywood says he’s spoken with law enforcement officials and some say more needs to be done, but they don’t necessarily support his legislation.  However, he said he will work with police and prosecutors “to take in the constructive suggestions they may have to make my bill stronger.”

Pennsylvania does have a law that allows for the appointment of a special prosecutor by the state attorney general in such cases, but only if the local district attorney concurs.