DOJ policy changes on officer-involved investigations

Wisconsin Department of Justice policy on the investigation of officer-involved shootings no longer routinely allows officers to review videotape of incidents before being interviewed.

DOJ spokesperson Johnny Koremenos says the change took place several months ago.  

The new policy involves "...interviewing the officer involved in the use of deadly force prior to the officer reviewing the audiovisual evidence," states Koremenos.

In the fatal shooting of unarmed, teenage suspect Tony Robinson in Madison in March 2015, Officer Matt Kenny was allowed to look at his police dash-camera video of the shooting, and listen to another arriving officer's audio, before giving a statement to state Justice Department agents.  Dane County's district attorney ruled Kenny committed no crimes, and Madison police officials deemed Kenny's use of force within department rules.But attorneys for Tony Robinson's family say a later, DOJ synchronization of Kenny's video and the other officer's audio exposed Kenny's claims of being punched in the head by Robinson at the top a stairwell and then firing his first gun shots at close range, as suspect.  They say Kenny used what he saw and heard before his interview to try to tailor his account to the evidence, but the synchronization poked holes in his account.

Family attorney Anand Swaminathan says the DOJ policy change speaks to the fallout from the Robinson incident and helps ensure more integrity in officer-involved investigations.

"...The DOJ has surely taken this case and made a change we think is an appropriate one,"  says Swaminathan.

But Executive Director Jim Palmer of the Wisconsin Professional Police Officers Association says the U.S. Department of Justice recommends officers be permitted to review video of any incident of which they were involved prior to making a statement.

"...The real-time recording of an event is considered the best evidence, and it will provide a more accurate record than an officer's recollection, which can be affected by stress and other factors," says Palmer.

The new DOJ policy does allow a prosecutor to make the decision on whether to allow video access, on occasions when an officer refuses to do an interview without first viewing footage.

While Kenny was cleared in the Robinson case, the city of Madison's insurer paid Robinson family members $3.3 million to settle a lawsuit against Kenny.

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