Possible charges in South Lake Tahoe police shooting caught in law change
Who should determine whether a police officer faces criminal charges after the use of deadly force — a district attorney or a grand jury — is at the heart of a legal argument surrounding the June death of Kris Jackson in South Lake Tahoe.
The El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office has sought to convene a grand jury to determine whether criminal charges are warranted against officer Joshua Klinge, who shot and killed the 22-year-old Sacramento resident during an incident June 15. The DA’s effort to assemble the grand jury in the matter follows a Jan. 1 change in California law prohibiting grand juries from reviewing officer-involved shootings.
The district attorney’s office filed documents with California’s Third District Court of Appeals in March as part of its effort to use a grand jury to determine if criminal charges against Klinge are warranted. Prosecutors took the matter to appeals after El Dorado County Superior Court discharged a grand jury proceeding over the shooting in February.
The case has attracted attention from the California District Attorneys Association, which has applied with the appeals court to file a letter supporting the El Dorado DA’s effort, according to court documents. The association opposed the passage of California Senate Bill 227, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in August. The law took effect Jan. 1 and prohibits the use of a grand jury to determine whether charges will be brought against officers who use deadly force. Supporters of the law argued the grand jury process provides little transparency and allows prosecutors to sidestep responsibility for determining whether to prosecute police officers. Prior to passage of the bill, the DAs association argued California’s grand jury system is more fair than federal and other states’ systems and argued for a more moderate approach to reform than removing all incidents of deadly force from the possibility of grand jury review.
A California District Attorneys Association representative declined to comment for this story. El Dorado County District Attorney Office spokesman Dave Stevenson also declined to comment on the possible prosecution of Klinge, citing the ongoing legal argument.
ABOUT THE SHOOTING
Police responded to the Tahoe Hacienda Inn in the early morning hours of June 15 following a report of a woman screaming. Klinge shot Jackson around 2:40 a.m. as Jackson was attempting to flee out of a window at the inn. Klinge said he perceived a deadly threat from Jackson prior to the shooting, according to a previous statement from the city. Jackson was unarmed at the time. Klinge was placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting.
A federal wrongful death suit filed against the city and members of its police force by Jackson’s parents, Angela Ainely and Patrick Jackson, is likely to be delayed as the legal issues surrounding potential criminal charges are resolved. Attorneys on both sides of the wrongful death suit have suggested a pause in the civil case until a determination regarding possible criminal charges against Klinge is made.
“As noted by Plaintiffs, the El Dorado District Attorney has refused to render a decision with respect to any criminal disposition of the officer’s use of force, but has instead attempted to convene a Grand Jury to consider the officer’s conduct,” wrote Bruce Praet, the attorney representing the city in the wrongful death suit, in an April 14 filing in federal court in Sacramento. “However, as of January 1, 2016, California Penal Code § 917(b) now expressly prohibits Grand Jury consideration of an officer’s use of deadly force. … Unfortunately, the Third District has now determined that the Writ Petition should be considered on the merits, but no briefing schedule has been set.”
Attorney Alan Laskin, who is representing Jackson’s parents in the civil suit, agreed that a stay in the case is necessary.
“Plaintiffs are not prepared to proceed with discovery in this case because of a pending action in state court on which the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office is attempting to overturn law regarding the use of a grand jury to indict a police officer for acts similar to those claimed in this case,” Laskin wrote.
A trial date of spring 2018 for the civil case is suggested in the filing, although the date is subject to extension.