CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Experts on police shootings say providing a detailed account of what happened in such cases such as the shooting deaths of Brian Good and Charleston Patrolman Jerry Jones shows the community that the department is learning lessons from the past.
Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford and Prosecutor Mark Plants say that they're satisfied that Charleston police acted properly when they shot and killed Good. They say that Jones' death was accidental.
But they have yet to reveal the detailed sequence of events that led to the shooting or which officers fired the shots that killed Good and Jones.
"And if you don't, the public has no way to know if that's what's being done. It also helps educate the public in how difficult these things are," said Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review. The review board is a civilian oversight board for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, the largest sheriff's department and the seventh-largest law enforcement agency in the country.
Patrolman Christopher Burford, a 20-month veteran of the force; Patrolman Owen Morris, a two-year veteran of the force; and Jones fired shots at Good, according to sources close to the investigation. Several other officers were on the scene either at the time or shortly afterward.
There are two reasons why progressive police departments let the citizens they protect look inside an investigation of this type when it's over, Gennaco said.
"One, whether there was wrongdoing or not, people ought to know what happened," he said. "Second, every officer-involved shooting should be used as a teaching moment.
"Good, bad or indifferent, it should be pulled apart from the prism of decision-making so they can learn from the incident to keep it from happening in the future."
Police benefit by letting citizens know that the department is learning lessons from the past, Gennaco said.
"I'm not sure what the harm is in not getting at that point. It should be taken advantage of, whether it's a change in equipment, individual accountability and discipline, a refocus on training," he said.
Protecting the name of an officer who accidentally shot someone is not reason enough to withhold details of the investigation from the public, said Jon Shane, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who spent 20 years as a police officer in Newark, N.J.
"I'm not going to show my hand [in an investigation] when going up against a bad guy, and I don't think the press or public expect that," he said. "But if an investigation is essentially closed, what is the public safety need?"
Officers who've accidentally shot their colleagues aren't always identified, he said.
"I'd say four or five years ago, they routinely [released the names of officers who shot other officers]," he said. "I think there's been a retrenchment on that.
"I think the more fundamental question is one of oversight and training," he said. "I think citizens are more interested in ... a complete accounting of what happened. I think that it is more important, to tell the story of what happened."