By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
Our law practice often represents federal, state, county and municipal law enforcement officers in disciplinary matters. When doing so, it is often important to obtain as many of the investigative records about the underlying investigation as possible for purposes of legal defense. Given that police departments (federal, state, county, and municipal) are organized differently, not all of them maintain an Internal Affairs Unit (IAU). However, most of these law enforcement employers do maintain an IAU or have delegated investigative duties to another part of the department or within the officer or agent's chain of command. Either way, the types of documents and materials sought for an officer's legal defense are similar and relevant to their legal defense should they be placed under investigation.
Type of Internal Affairs Documents Available
Typically, an IAU investigation covers many aspects of an incident under investigation. The types of documents contained within an IAU investigative file can include a number of useful items for an officer's legal defnese. These items can include: (1) the initial incident report or complaint; (2) investigative interviews and statements of the complainant and/or witnesses in the case (both in writing and possibly tape-recorded versions of the statements); (3) copies of relevant general or department orders pertinent to the investigation; (4) videotape footage of the underlying incident; (5) relevant photographs of the scene of the incident or related issues; (6) copies of the questions asked by investigators of the witnesses; (7) letters or documents to other police officials describing issues or the status of the investigation; (8) copies of any declinations of prosecution in the file; (9) relevant diagrams or reconstructions of an incident (where available); and (10) related court records or orders (where applicable).
There may be other items available in a particular IAU investigative folder, but the above listed items are the types of documents that are most often included in these types of investigations.
Usefulness of Such Documents for Legal Defense
Often times law enforcement officers meet with us and have not considered the possibility of seeking IAU documents for use in their legal defense when facing a potential disciplinary action. We advise law enforcement officers to seek these documents whenever possible because they can uncover mistakes within the investigation. Where mistakes in an investigation are found, or areas overlooked by investigators, this information can be used as a defense for the officer involved. With the proper use of such documents, a proposed disciplinary action may potentially be dismissed or the penalty or sanction may be reduced.
Depending on the police department involved, these documents can potentially be obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Privacy Act requests, Collective Bargaining Agreement requests, Due Process information requests and by other methods depending on the police department involved.
When a law enforcement officer is facing a potential disciplinary action, it is important to obtain the advice of counsel. An officer or agent will want to obtain legal advice and assistance in obtaining relevant records for their legal defense. Our law firm stands ready to advise police officers and agents on the issues relating to their law enforcement employment. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070.