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Michigan ACLU wants outside prosecutors to handle police shooting deaths

Mar 30, 2015

Credit Elsa Blaine / Flickr Creative Commons

The  ACLU of Michigan wants state law to be changed so that local prosecutors would no longer handle cases involving deaths caused by police in their home counties.

"We would very much like to see a new system in Michigan that calls for independent prosecutors to be appointed when cases of this kind come up." said Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the Racial Justice Project of the Michigan ACLU.

In a recent letter, Fancher asked State Representative Jeff Irwin to consider introducing "legislation  that will require the use of prosecutors from counties outside of those where deaths caused by police occurred."

"The relationship between local prosecutors and local police is so close that there is at least a perception of unfairness by many members of the public," Fancher said. "This can be the cause of continuing unrest, or at least discontent in a community."

Fancher said the ACLU proposes the establishment of a panel of county prosecutors who would be on-call to investigate and prosecute officer-involved deaths outside their counties.

Fancher also called upon Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie to allow a prosecutor from another county to review the November Ann Arbor police shooting of Aura Rosser.  Two police officers went to her home to investigate 911 calls.  According to police, Rosser approached the officers with a knife, and one fired a fatal bullet while the other fired a taser gun.  Following an investigation by the Michigan State Police, Mackie declined to bring charges against the officers.

In a  recent letter to Mackie, Fancher wrote, "We believe you handled this matter with the highest degree of professionalism and integrity, and that you also demonstrated tremendous respect for the community you serve....We believe that in the same way that the Michigan State Police were invited to investigate this killing, an outside prosecutor can give the community greater confidence in the process."

When asked to comment, Mackie said that Michigan law requires county prosecutors to decide whether to bring charges in cases of police-involved shootings in their counties, and he was doing his duty as required by law in reaching a decision in this case.  Mackie said that  if the ACLU thinks his decision was wrong, they can appeal to the US Justice Department or the Michigan Attorney General.

Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom