In St. Augustine, FL and Albuquerque, NM, many people are outraged about the lack of accountability for their local police departments. In St. Augustine, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department is still under fire for the careless investigation of a 2010 incident. Meanwhile, the Albuquerque Police Department is being criticized for shooting 39 people since 2010, killing 25 of them.
The 2010 death of Michelle O’Connell, a 24-year-old mother, still resonates with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department as many citizens believe Officer Jeremy Banks, her boyfriend at the time, killed her while the department helped him cover it up.
O’Connell’s death was immediately ruled a suicide and the department failed to test any forensic evidence, interview neighbors or speak with family members. Some suspect that since the case involved one of their own, the department purposefully botched the investigation.
When the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated, they reached a much different conclusion. They interviewed witnesses, who passed polygraph tests, who said they heard a woman scream for help before hearing gunfire. They also determined that the blood work, among other forensic data, is consistent with a homicide, not a suicide.
O’Connell was found shot to death with Banks’ weapon by her side. Banks claims to have been in a different room, but somehow O’Connell’s blood ended up on his shirt. Still, no charges are forthcoming.
People are fed up with the pattern of police violence in Albuquerque that they packed City Hall to demand justice. After shooting 39 people since 2010, and killing 25, many citizens are wondering if police should be killing so often.
In April, the Department of Justice described a pattern of excessive force, concluding “officers too frequently used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat.” Since then, Albuquerque Police have shot two more people.
The use of deadly force parallels the problem faced by the Miami Police Department in the early 2000s. Although Albuquerque doesn’t have nearly the crime rate that Miami does, their police shooting statistics are similar to what Miami had back then.
These issues illustrate why it’s important to have independent investigations for police shootings. Now that Assembly Bill 409 has been signed into law in Wisconsin, all deaths that occur in police custody will be independently investigated.