They Investigate Police Killings. Their Record Is Wanting.
4 min read
After the murder of George Floyd, some states looked to independent agencies to examine deaths in police custody. But dozens of cases handled by the Texas Rangers show the approach has flaws.
In other instances, the Rangers fell short of basic standards. They did not speak to all relevant witnesses, delegated investigative tasks to the agencies under review and failed to follow up on signs that officers were negligent or behaving dangerously. In the death of Ms. Page, Mr. Russell sided with the two guards over 10 pathologists who conduct autopsies in Dallas County, home to one of the state's largest medical examiners' offices.

The Times shared its findings with a half-dozen veteran homicide detectives and policing experts in six states, all of whom emphasized that death investigations range widely in difficulty and circumstances. When officers shoot and kill someone, for example, many of the facts are not in dispute, particularly the manner of death, and the pressure mostly falls on prosecutors to decide whether to treat the killing as a criminal act.

It gets more complicated when no shots are fired, they said, and there is a struggle in which the person in custody stops breathing. A deep examination of those investigations offers hints about the thoroughness of the outside police work because state investigators must retrace how officers used their hands, feet and body weight at every turn — and determine whether those…
Michael LaForgia, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries
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