Special Report: Policing the Police - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Policing the Police

Officer shootings around the country have led to unrest and unprecedented scrutiny of those cases. Officer shootings around the country have led to unrest and unprecedented scrutiny of those cases.
The GBI has become a national model with agencies from other states, studying how they handle officer use of force cases. The GBI has become a national model with agencies from other states, studying how they handle officer use of force cases.
"The GBI has a very structured process that we follow," explained Vernon Keenan, who is the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. "The GBI has a very structured process that we follow," explained Vernon Keenan, who is the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The GBI turned over a comprehensive report of more than 1,000 pages to the Lowndes County District Attorney after an exhaustive investigation into the Valdosta shooting. The GBI turned over a comprehensive report of more than 1,000 pages to the Lowndes County District Attorney after an exhaustive investigation into the Valdosta shooting.
VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) -

When a police officer shoots someone, how is the investigation handled?

Officer shootings around the country have led to unrest and unprecedented scrutiny of those cases.

"Yeah, he shot that dude," says a man in cell phone video from a Valdosta motel room. "See the bullet hole in the driver's side window, head height."

It shows the immediate aftermath of a deadly shooting by a Lowndes County deputy.

In that case, Dexter Bethea was already dead behind the wheel of a car, and the wheels of justice were already in motion.

"The GBI has a very structured process that we follow," explained Vernon Keenan, who is the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Within an hour the GBI was on the scene, handling the investigation.

"We're doing the investigations for just about every agency in the state of Georgia," Keenan said.

In the first time it's been available to the public, he presented the manual that GBI agents follow when investigating these cases.

Keenan explained that they have specific investigation steps that are mandated to be taken, and specific training for the agents who handle the cases.

The 25-page manual guides agents through every step of the investigation. The section dealing with interviewing the officer involved includes 56 steps and questions investigators must complete.

"There cannot be an error in these types of cases," warned Keenan. "They're too important."

The GBI turned over a comprehensive report of more than 1,000 pages to the Lowndes County District Attorney after an exhaustive investigation into that Valdosta shooting.

"They do not make a recommendation. They just set forth the facts," said Lowndes County District Attorney David Miller.

Those facts showed Bethea and two other people showed up at an Econo Lodge to sell drugs to woman who didn't realize officers had just busted in a prostitution sting.

Deputies in two vehicles tried to block Bethea's car in a parking spot, as two other deputies ran toward them from inside the motel. That's when Bethea tried to speed away. His car actually grazed an officer, and Lowndes County Deputy Scott Warnock fired one shot through the driver's side window, hitting Bethea in the head.

"He felt another deputy's life was in danger because of the direction that the man was speeding off in the car," Miller said.

Seconds after the shooting, the car crossed the parking lot and crashed.

The GBI presented its report to a grand jury, which decided the shooting was justified.

"I don't think there was any question in my mind or the grand jury's mind that those officers acted reasonable under the circumstances," said Miller.

The GBI recently developed a fact-finding form and sent it out to law enforcement agencies throughout Georiga. The making of this report was the first time it was released to the public.

MORE: See the GBI's Fact Finder report outline for agencies

It essentially tells agencies what they need to do immediately if they call in the GBI to investigate a use of force case in their agency.

It also informs them what records the GBI will need right away.

Part of the reason behind this proactive step by the GBI is to help make sure police and sheriff leaders understand that in a case like this, the GBI is not "on their side."

The GBI agents are not there to do an administrative review or help the local agency.  They are there to conduct a complete and independent criminal investigation.

Miller says from now on, he won't make a decision on whether to prosecute any officer on his own. But instead, he will take every deadly police use of force case to a grand jury.

"Because the public needs to have confidence in the outcome of the investigation," he said.

Use Of Force and Officer Involved shootings (Source: GBI)

Miller touts that the GBI provides that confidence.

The GBI has become a national model with agencies from other states, studying how they handle officer use of force cases.

"I'm not aware of another state that has gone as far in this area as the state of Georgia has," said Keenan.

These officers are policing the police to make sure the truth comes out.

Since the case, the grand jury recommended that the Lowndes County Commission and Sheriff's Office work together to buy body cameras for all deputies.

Copyright  2015 WALB.  All rights reserved.

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