Legislation that would create a new review panel to examine police officer-involved shootings in Maine has the support of both the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and Attorney General Aaron Frey.

The bill, originally filed by Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, was amended at the suggestion of Frey, who proposed doubling the number of committee members to 14, split evenly between law enforcement and others including medical professionals, attorneys and members of the public.

The Judiciary Committee endorsed the bill without opposition during a work session last Thursday. It faces one final committee review before heading to the full Legislature.

“I want everyone to understand that the public’s faith in the integrity of our law enforcement communities will grow through a transparent process,” Evangelos said during an April 10 hearing on the measure. “That’s the motivation for the bill, to improve things, and I’ll do anything I can do to make it work better.”

The 8-0 committee vote on the amended legislation – five members were absent – followed a discussion about encouraging diversity of race, gender and ethnic background on the panel.

“The diversity I’m worried about,” said Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, D-South Portland. “I think we sometimes forget that the native population is subject to way worse violence, particularly the women, so I think there well may be a reason to put a native person on this panel for that piece.”

Revisions to the bill are expected to include a preamble directing future attorneys general to account for diverse voices when appointing members of the board, who will serve three-year terms.

“We were really pleased with how the process went,” said Marc Malon, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. “We think it was a good discussion, and we think we’re at a place to pass some really sound public policy here.”

Under current law, the Attorney General’s Office conducts an investigation to determine whether an officer’s use of deadly force is legally justified, and consults with attorneys from the office’s criminal division to decide whether the officer’s actions meet the legal definition of justifiable force under the law.

Since 1990, the Maine Attorney General’s Office has investigated more than 150 police-involved shootings and it has never found any of them to be unjustified.

The panel proposed by Evangelos would not change that legal review by the Attorney General’s Office, but would add a separate layer of oversight.

Although the bill’s language is still being finalized, the core of the legislation would create a 14-member panel. All members would be appointed by the attorney general, and by stipulation, would include the state Commissioner of Public Safety; the director of investigations for the office of the Attorney General; the director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy; two attorneys with experience bringing federal civil rights claims and defending against them; a police chief; a county sheriff; a mental health professional; a representative of a statewide police union; a representative of a statewide civil rights organization; a criminal prosecutor; and three citizens who have not worked as a police officer.

The panel would be charged with examining whether police followed best practices, and when appropriate, make recommendations for improving police practices. The group would be required to deliver a report to the Legislature every two years, starting in January 2021. It is modeled after a statewide homicide review panel.

Evangelos’ original bill called for a panel of seven members, and instead of a biennial report, called for the panel to evaluate each deadly force case within 90 days and issue recommendations to the attorney general. Typically, however, use of deadly force investigations by the Attorney General’s Office take several months to complete.

The committee will review the legislation again once the final language is drafted, and the five members of the committee who were not present for the vote may still weigh in before the bill goes to the floor.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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Twitter: MattByrnePPH

 

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