Questions raised over officer shooting at oversight board meeting
Police chief described policies as board members asked about video release and circumstances involved in last week's deadly police-involved fatal incident.
FARGO — Seven members of the Police Advisory & Oversight Board peppered Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski on Thursday, July 14, with questions about last week's police-involved fatal shooting.
Local activist Faith Dixon told the board to demand the release of body camera and in-squad car footage of the police-officer shooting of Native American Shane Netterville on Friday, July 8.
Zibolski made it clear that the prosecutor in the case, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley, made the decision to not release the video as he weighs whether to charge the officer with a crime.
Wrigley, who took over the criminal case from the Cass County state's attorney office, told The Forum in a Thursday interview there was no basis to make an exception in this case, adding that to release it now would be inappropriate. He said there are practical, constitutional and legal reasons behind the decision.
"I totally understand why people want to see that," he said, noting footage would be released following completion of legal proceedings.
Zibolski told the board in some instances nationally, video is released to try and tamp down emotional responses to a deadly shooting.
In this case, Zibolski said it was more complex to determine the full context, which also includes gathering witness statements.
"Sometimes the video clip will not tell you the full picture of what's going on," he said, noting he hadn't seen the video as all evidence has been turned over to the investigating agency, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations based in Bismarck.
Zibolski, in his detailed slide presentation to the board, laid out the department's policies on video recordings, police-involved shootings and use of force incidents for the board.
After the criminal investigation to determine if use of force by officer Adam O'Brien was justified, three steps follow.
An investigation will continue into the victim's actions, followed by an internal investigation by the wing of the department to determine if any police policies were violated. Disciplinary action may be taken, and a civil investigation may begin to determine potential liability in the case.
Board members were mostly concerned about police policies, circumstances involving the fatal incident, the video situation and how the investigation is being conducted.
Board member Conrad Thomas questioned the policy of shooting at a vehicle, and how it may be interpreted in this case.
Zibolski said Fargo police policy states officers shouldn't shoot at vehicles, especially if they can get out of the way. If an officer feared for his life, or that of another, however, he or she may take action.
Thomas asked how it can be determined in this instance if the officer could have gotten out of the way.
"Fortunately now we have all of this camera footage to show multiple views looking at what the officer's statement of reasoning was in context with that video, "Zibolksi said. "Was there an objectively reasonable decision that the officer could not have gotten out of the way in a split second that the vehicle went towards him, or could that officer have gotten out of the way?"
Thomas said, though, that question would be subjected "to your interpretation."
Zibolski said it would be up to the prosecutor's interpretation.
The chief said the national view in the past five to eight years is that officers shouldn't stand in front of vehicles or shoot at vehicles in most circumstances, except where deadly effects are possible.
When asked by board member Tonya Greywind how many videos exist of the incident, Zibolski said there should be three body-camera videos from each of the three officers on the scene. There may also be two videos from the squad cars.
"There's quite a bit to review in this case," Zibolski said.
Thomas asked about The Forum article that said court documents released involving one of the other suspects who fled the scene, stated an officer said the vehicle sped towards them.
Zibolski said that information had to be released as part of charging documents for the suspect who fled.
The arrest "had to be justified," he said. "It's more of a generic statement. There's no decision on that. No one has seen the video."
In response to questions by board member Scott Paul, Zibolski said the video is evidence and that it's being safeguarded. It's been turned over to the BCI, and officers can't tamper with the footage.
Thomas also asked about how another law enforcement agency, which is part of a "perceived brotherhood," could show fairness in the investigation.
Zibolski emphasized there were no connections between the key BCI investigators and the Fargo police, noting the agency is separate, competent and experienced in investigations.
Dixon, the lone speaker to appear after a heated exchange between numerous Native Americans and others at the last Fargo City Commission meeting, said she believed the community was "tremendously saddened and angered."
She also noted that 28-year-old Netterville died alone in the hospital as his family wasn't allowed in the room. She called it "appalling of what the family has had to endure these past seven days."
Zibolski said they had also met with the family and were keeping them abreast of the investigation and what lies ahead. He described them as "distraught" but doing as best as they could.
When asked by Board Chairman Joanna Johnson about the officers on the scene, Zibolski said they were glad to have the newly hired, nationally recognized police psychologists available to help O'Brien and anyone else in the department about the situation.