Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine implemented a new policy on how the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation will handle shootings involving police officers.
DeWine said he felt the change was needed after his office reviewed the BCI investigation into the July 2010 shooting death of Bryan Jones, 26. Family members cleared out of their home and called the Sandusky County sheriff's office for help after Jones, who had been drinking, made threats against them.
Jones was alone in the home, sleeping or passed out with a shotgun resting in his lap, when four sheriff's deputies went in 90 minutes after arriving at the Ballville Township residence. The deputies were standing less than 15 feet from the sleeping Jones when they awakened him using a flash bomb grenade, a weapon designed to startle and disorient a person.
Jones was jerked awake by the grenade the deputies detonated, and they shot and killed him instantly, blowing off his arm with high-powered ammunition in their weapons.
Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Steirwalt asked the BCI to investigate the fatal shooting. The Attorney General's office said Sandusky County submitted a broad request for help in the investigation, but at some point it was scaled back to just what happened after deputies entered the home.
"The investigation was a more narrow investigation," DeWine said. "If we come into these into the future, we will not have such a narrow focus — it would be much broader."
DeWine refused to speculate why a law enforcement agency, the BCI or a county would limit an investigation, but that would no longer be permissible under the new policy. The attorney general said the BCI in the future will thoroughly investigate all aspects of a police shooting if it is asked to assist local agencies.
The serious missteps in the way the Sandusky County sheriff's office handled the incident were compounded by serious missteps in the way the BCI conducted its probe. The conclusions reached by BCI, detailed in reports, suggested that the sleeping Jones committed suicide by cop, and the suggestion a sleeping man could commit suicide by cop is ridiculous. The BCI itself obviously suffers from serious deficiencies to have made such an assertion.
But DeWine was not attorney general when the incident occurred, and we understand there are limitations in the Ohio Revised Code as to the BCI's role in local investigation. We believe DeWine's decision to not allow investigations of police shootings to be narrowed is a positive first step, and we appreciate his willingness to adopt change.
Obviously there is more work to do to upgrade the standards at BCI, but the change ordered by DeWine is a positive first step during his first year as attorney general. We're hopeful he will continue this reform path. It is desperately needed.
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The above is an editorial Viewpoint published in Wednesday's Register. The opinions of the Register Editoral Board, local columnists and readers are published six days a week on the Register's editorial page.