Officer-Involved Shooting: Voluntary or Compelled Statement?

Shooting a suspect can rattle the most experienced law enforcement officer. Even in the best-case scenario, you will be faced with explaining your actions; if there are any doubts about whether this was a “good shooting,” your career and life can change forever. Therefore, it’s critical to know what to expect and how to react.

In the recent webinar, “I Just Shot Someone. What’s Next?” Lexipol co-founder Bruce Praet explains the chain of events following an officer-involved shooting, from the occurrence of the incidence to the jury trial. One key question he addresses: Should you give a voluntary statement to criminal investigators, whether from within your agency or outside it, or should you wait and give a compelled statement (e.g., Garrity)?

When Praet recently posed this question during a panel discussion to about 1,200 officers, 67% of the attendees said they would not give statements to criminal investigators until they were compelled to do so. “That’s probably the worst thing that you can ever do if you are involved in a shooting,” Praet says.

Why? Because capturing your state of mind during the shooting is a critical part of your defense, especially if the subject was unarmed. And without a statement, there’s no way for you to counteract the accounts of independent witnesses, who may have a limited perspective of the incident but nevertheless can make a convincing case in court that you shot someone unnecessarily.

Remember, Graham v. Connor states that “the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene.” Issuing a voluntary statement provides that perspective, which can calm criminal investigators’ suspicions and give the District Attorney something to work with when deciding whether to bring charges.

In fact, Praet notes a direct correlation between compelled statements and indictments: “In the last 15 years, about a dozen cops have been criminally indicted in the state of California … Every one of those officers refused to give a voluntary statement to criminal investigators.”

However, you should also remember that there’s no need to rush the process. Criminal investigators may put pressure on you to talk, but Praet advocates a cooling-off period of at least 24 hours to allow you to get some rest and solidify the incident in your mind. During this time, you should meet with your attorney to thoroughly review the facts of your case and prepare a comprehensive voluntary statement. Your attorney can also advise you of any state-specific rights available to you.

Note: Use caution when talking with peer support members. There is no attorney/client privilege between you and your fellow officers. Let them assist you with phone calls, transport, change of clothes, etc., but don’t talk to them concerning the shooting.

The actions taken by the department after an officer-involved shooting are equally as critical. Communication needs to be factual, timely and transparent. It’s also important that the community—the public and the media—have easy access to information and updates on the shooting case.

The bottom line: Following an officer-involved shooting, your first reaction may be to button up and provide information only when compelled to do so. But if it’s a “good shooting,” providing a voluntary statement can show that you are honest and credible. Should the case advance to criminal or, more likely, civil charges, the fact that you gave a voluntary statement may work in your favor.

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational and educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice or opinions. You should not act upon any information presented without first seeking legal counsel on your specific matter.

Lexipol’s Law Enforcement Policy Manual and Daily Training Service provides guidance on complex policy issues, including officer-involved shootings and deaths policy. Contact us today for more information or to request a free demo.

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