COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Investigations involving officer-involved shootings could span months following incidents, according to conversations with a district attorney and a Columbus police official.
It includes a lengthy internal investigation and sometimes external criminal investigations as well. Lem Miller, Columbus Police Department's assistant chief, explained the process.
"We take each and every case extremely serious and they're investigated to the fullest," Miller said.
Miller says from the moment they are notified that a police officer has fired a weapon, the officer must immediately take a drug and alcohol test and is placed on administrative leave. In most cases, he says the officer is put on paid administrative leave during the investigation process.
"If it's just an accidental or unintentional discharge, that's handled administratively in-house and that incident is investigated," Miller said. "If it's the actual shooting at or shooting of an individual, the chief will ask that the GBI, an outside agency, come in to investigate."
Once the GBI's investigation is complete, Miller says the results are handed over to the district attorney's office. If criminal activity is suspected by the DAs office, it will be sent to a grand jury, which meets approximately four times a year.
At the grand jury, an indictment against the officer is not guaranteed. In the 1983 case of Graham v. Connor, the Court of Appeals ruled that allegations of excessive or deadly force must be looked at "from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. We thus allow for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments."
It's a ruling Miller calls "justifiable," saying "coupled with the fact that the officer feels threatened at the time that this incident occurs, it will be justifiable."
Russell County District Attorney Ken Davis tells us the process could take several months to finish the internal and external investigations. The evidence is then presented to the grand jury to render a decision as to whether the officer acted criminally or appropriately for the situation.