The Washington-based think tank hired by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office started its investigation into the department late last month.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is spending $100,000 for the Police Executive Research Forum to examine his department’s internal affairs unit and the unit’s investigations after The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 found the unit cleared all but one fatal shooting by a deputy in 16 years.
The team from PERF started July 28, and their six-member team could spend up to four months interviewing PBSO staff, comparing the department’s policies with “best practices” and hosting six focus groups to get public input. Their findings will be released in a public report.
Their first visit lasted four days. The dates for the focus groups have not been announced.
Police internal affairs units are tasked with investigating whether officers violate department policy, and their findings can lead to officers being disciplined or fired. They do not handle criminal investigations.
The Post-WPTV investigation found that some of the unit’s investigators would skew or ignore evidence that would appear unfavorable to deputies who shoot.
After deputy Jason Franqui shot 16-year-old Jeremy Hutton, who suffers from Down syndrome, in 2010, for example, investigators said video confirmed Franqui’s statement that he shot as Hutton was driving toward him in a minivan.
But the video actually shows the opposite: Franqui fired all six rounds while Hutton was driving away from him.
The investigators’ reports also often left out critical information. In Hutton’s case, the report didn’t mention that Franqui’s rounds went into the back of the minivan, or that two of the rounds went into a passing motorist’s vehicle.
Although PBSO has a strict policy against shooting into moving vehicles, investigators found nothing to fault in the shooting.
Bradshaw agreed that some of the unit’s reports were inadequate, and he said future reports into shootings will be more thorough.
But he said better reports wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the investigations.
Since 2000, the department has cleared all but 12 shootings, a 90 percent clearance rate, The Post found. Since 2010, the rate is 100 percent.