Newly installed California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday laid out how he plans to enforce a law that he helped put on the books as an Assemblymember, which requires the AG's Office to get involved with all police shootings of unarmed civilians in the state.
Bonta's announcement has its roots in Assembly Bill 1506, which Bonta co-authored in the Assembly and which Newsom signed into law last year. The law, which passed with bipartisan support, creates a new division within the Department of Justice that would conduct investigations on behalf of local law enforcement when an officer-involved shooting occurs, and to review police departments' use-of-force policies.
But Bonta's policy changes today appear to go a bit further in stating that most such investigations will be fully under his office's control, and so will any charging decisions. As the Chronicle reports, in the announcement, Bonta laid out some logistical plans for how these investigations will work.
"These critical incidents are never going to be easy," Bonta said. "But the new tools and procedures we are announcing today are a chance to insert more transparency and more accountability into these investigations."
In writing the original bill, Bonta said he took victims' families into consideration.
"I heard firsthand the hurt and the pain that so many families and communities feel in the moments after these incidents, and I’ve witnessed the lack of trust that these investigations will be treated fairly by our criminal justice system," he said.
Covering an entire state and being able to respond quickly to the scene when a police officer shoots a civilian will require some fanning out of personnel to field offices. Bonta explained that the state will start by creating two offices with investigative teams in Northern and Southern California, as well as 27 agents placed around the state. These teams will turn their findings over to the new special prosecutions division of the AG's Office, and they will decide whether a crime has taken place.
"The final charging decisions will be up to this office, and nobody else," Bonta said.
Momentum for creating this new division and conducting independent investigations came largely out of Vallejo, where a history of shootings by police and one in particular — last June's shooting of San Francisco man Sean Monterrosa during an apparent looting incident — set up a conflict between the Solano County DA and the AG's Office. DA Krishna Abrams had asked then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra to take over the case, recusing herself because of her office's close ties with the police, and Becerra refused, claiming there was no conflict of interest.
San Francisco has its own division within the District Attorney's Office for these independent investigative purposes, set up under former DA George Gascon. DA Chesa Boudin commended Bonta's announcement, and said in a statement to the Chronicle, "our office’s Independent Investigation Bureau investigates and reviews for prosecution every single incident of an officer-involved shooting."
"You can't have trust without accountability and transparency," Bonta said.
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