SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KERO) — 2020 was a year of change for many law enforcement agencies in the wake of George Floyd's death. Now the California Department of Justice is launching its own investigations into officer-involved shootings, specifically if those victims were unarmed.
On Wednesday, the California Attorney General rolled out guidelines on how the state will implement new protocols for office-involved shootings.
Assembly Bill 1506 requires the California Department of Justice to investigate all incidents of officer-involved shootings that result in the death of an unarmed person. These types of incidents had previously been handled by local law enforcement and the district attorney.
According to a statement released by California Attorney General Rob Bonta's office, effective July 1, 2021, the California Department of Justice will investigate and review for potential criminal liability all such incidents covered under the new law using a newly established California Police Shooting Investigation Teams (CaPSIT). The law also requires the DOJ to make public any decisions explaining why criminal prosecution wasn't sought, or what criminal charges were filed.
“One of the most important tasks ahead for public safety and our society is building and maintaining trust between our communities and law enforcement,” said Attorney General Bonta in the statement. “Impartial, fair investigations and independent reviews of officer-involved shootings are one essential component for achieving that trust. Today, California is strengthening our state’s mechanisms for accountability and transparency in investigations of officer-involved shootings. These cases are never going to be easy, but the California Department of Justice will follow the facts and seek to ensure every Californian is afforded equal justice under the law.”
CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL ROB BONTA'S STATEMENT ON AB 1506:
It is estimated that there will be approximately 40 to 50 officer-involved shootings each year requiring the involvement of the California Department of Justice. The bill is looking to change the process for any internal investigations and hold more people accountable.
What it means to be "unarmed"?
Lawmakers define an unarmed civilian as someone who does not have a deadly weapon on them during an arrest or shooting.
What qualifies as a deadly weapon?
The bill says a deadly weapon is in part defined as any loaded weapon that can be shot or is capable of killing or seriously injuring another person. That means guns count as deadly weapons but so do crossbows. There are also several different types of knives, clubs, and metal knuckles that meet the criteria for a deadly weapon.
What does Kern County law enforcement think of the bill?
So far this year, local law enforcement agencies have been involved in more than four officer-involved shootings.
23ABC talked with Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer and Sheriff Donny Youngblood who say the bill has some flaws but they are ready to work with the state.
“There are some problems with 1506 and what an armed suspect is from our standpoint,” said Youngblood.
WATCH 23ABC'S FULL INTERVIEW WITH SHERIFF DONNY YOUNGBLOOD:
It’s a point of concern for Youngblood. Assembly Bill 1506 will have the California Department of Justice investigate officer-involved shootings of unarmed people. And while the bill defines what being unarmed is, Youngblood says law enforcement may not have time to figure out if a weapon is real or fake.
“Quite frankly if you are dealing with a replica firearm after a shooting, was it necessary? Of course, it wasn’t necessary because it was only a replica firearm. Going forward with what the officer saw, was it necessary? Absolutely, because the officer believed it was a real gun.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the bill on Wednesday and says the state will make sure equal justice is served.
“Families and communities, I promise you this: the California Department of Justice will follow the facts and seek to ensure that every Californian is afforded equal justice under the law.”
Zimmer believes those investigations should stay with the local district attorney’s office.
“I think that my voters in Kern County should be able to have a say. Now the attorney general is going to be looking at these cases and if the voters of Kern County don’t like what the attorney general does, they really have no say.”
While the California DOJ will be looking into those shootings Youngblood says KCSO will continue on with their own investigations.
“We will still work our own administrative investigation. we will still work through it just as we always have and we will come to a conclusion as quickly as we can, whether that officer acted within policy or not.”
Youngblood also says he will speak up if he feels like the investigation is not right.
“It’s going to be a fair investigation no matter what. If it’s not or the Department of Justice were to indict someone that I believe acted within the law, I will say that.”
Zimmer says it’s important to know that her office specifically has not received a case where the officer-involved shooting was of an unarmed individual. She says while she was opposed to this bill she plans to cooperate with the DOJ as they conduct investigations.