Always Right

A Nassau County police officer shot an unarmed man in the back. Another intentionally ran down an unarmed man with his squad car, costing him a leg. Still another shot an unarmed cabdriver after a night of drinking off duty.

In each case, department investigators reviewed the use of deadly force and reached the same conclusion within a day: The officer’s actions were justified.

A Newsday investigation into the Nassau County Police Department’s use of deadly force found cases where officers fired on suspects after incorrectly believing they were armed, shot people later convicted of no crime at all, and took action that a jury would later call excessive, resulting in one civil settlement of more than $15 million.

Yet each time, Nassau police’s deadly force investigators validated the officer’s actions.

The department confirmed Newsday’s findings in acknowledging that since at least 2006 — as the number of officers shooting suspects rose sharply — Nassau’s deadly force investigators have never found that their officers were wrong when they felt the need to seriously injure or kill someone. Though the department spokesman, Insp. Kenneth Lack, said many uses of police deadly force are subject to an additional, more thorough investigation by Nassau’s homicide squad, he confirmed that those detectives also had not found a use of deadly force unjustified.

Nassau police denied Newsday’s public-records requests for reports about its deadly force investigations by citing New York’s 50-a law, which lets law enforcement agencies keep records used to judge individual officers’ performance hidden from the public. While some of the incidents reviewed by Newsday show that Nassau’s officers have used force in what appear to be appropriate circumstances, a number of cases raise questions about the use of deadly force and whether the department conducts thorough investigations into its officers behind this cloak of secrecy.

Click here to read the rest of the Newsday story.

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