Deputy Assembly Majority Leader Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) joined with Wisconsin police oversight activist Michael Bell on Friday to discuss legislation Gusciora has introduced that is modeled after a similar Wisconsin law inspired by the death of Bell’s son.
Bell’s son was killed in what was later determined to be an unwarranted police shooting over ten years ago, motivating Bell to lobby the Wisconsin legislature for laws that would require independent investigators to investigate deaths involving a police officer. The passage of the Wisconsin legislation earlier this year motivated Gusciora recently to introduce similar legislation in New Jersey (A-3756).
“My goal with this bill is to prevent conflicts of interest and enhance accountability and transparency for investigations of fatal incidents involving a police officer” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “The purpose of the bill is twofold. First and foremost, it will crackdown on abuses of authority and ensure justice for families like Michael Bell’s. And, it will also ensure that officers acting on the right side of the law are not wrongly convicted of misdoing.”
“What I learned from the investigation into the death of my son is that, as a country, we have simply not been paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us–regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Bell. “The recent incidents in Ferguson have helped shine a light on this issue and exposed the flaws that still exist in our system. I’m happy to see Assemblyman Gusciora taking the lead here in New Jersey and I hope that other states will follow suit to help prevent many more tragedies.”
Gusciora’s bill would require county and municipal law enforcement agencies to adopt a guideline mandating that two independent persons investigate an incident where a person has died as a direct result of an act or omission by a police officer while in the actual performance of the officer’s official duties.
The bill defines an “independent person” as an individual qualified to investigate a fatal incident, and who is employed by the county prosecutor of a county other than where the fatal incident occurred.
Gusciora’s bill would also require the Superintendent of the State Police to ensure two independent persons investigate an incident in which an act or omission by a member of the New Jersey State Police, while in the actual performance of the member’s duties, directly results in the death of an individual. An independent person is someone who is not employed by the New Jersey State Police.
Gusciora’s bill has been referred to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.