One avenue for transparency in police shootings may be making a comeback
The Times' Doug Smith on Monday examined the history -- and future -- of coroner's inquests into police shootings in Los Angeles County. With the renewed attention on fatal encounters between police and civilians, the idea may be in the early stages of making a comeback.
Now, with frustration boiling in Los Angeles as well as cities such as Ferguson and Baltimore over the handling of killings by police, some legal analysts and public officials are asking whether the inquest — or a modified form of it — could be revived as a vehicle to increase public access to information.
At the urging of County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark A. Fajardo, who reviewed all police shootings in his job as Riverside County coroner, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has asked key agency heads to rethink the review process with an eye to increasing transparency.
Fajardo, who became L.A.’s coroner in 2013, said he found it "troubling" that the office had no review procedures.
"I think the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner should have a process that assures quality, assures efficiency and is transparent in some respect," Fajardo said.
He said he considered calling an inquest into the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford last year, but held back because he hadn't fully vetted the process. The county is still reviewing various options.
In an article to be published this summer in the Yale Law & Policy Review, Paul MacMahon, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics, argues that a revamped inquest procedure could serve an important role both for accountability in wrongful deaths and "helping the deceased’s family come to terms with a traumatic death."
Read the rest of Smith's report: Could a discredited institution from L.A.'s past be reborn?