MINOT, N.D. — Let me start off by saying that, based on all the facts I've seen reported, I suspect the findings of the Fargo Police Department, in this case, are appropriate.
They launched an inquiry into the use of force against 27-year-old Tyler Alexander Patel.
In October, Mr. Patel was shot in the eye with a pepperball gun.
I'll pause here to let you reflect on how that might feel.
Patel and his family feel that use of force was excessive. The Fargo P.D. says it wasn't, per this report from my colleague April Baumgarten.
"Patel told police he wanted them to shoot him while refusing to obey commands to drop the gun he claimed to have, the report said," Baumgarten writes. "Internal investigators interviewed nine officers who were at the scene, some of whom said they feared for their lives and the safety of others in the area."
That Mr. Patel got a pepperball to the eye is regrettable, but given the situation he appears to have created, it's probably a better outcome than some of the alternatives.
What troubles me about this review is this passage from Baumgarten's report: "Because the internal investigation cleared the officers of wrongdoing, police do not plan to forward the case to the Cass County State's Attorney's Office for prosecutors to review for possible criminal charges against the officers, police spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker said."
That's problematic for a couple of reasons.
Why are the Fargo cops investigating themselves? Certainly, the department has an interest in reviewing the actions of one of its own officers, to ensure that appropriate policy and standards were adhered to, but this was also a situation where the review could have resulted in criminal charges for Fargo police officers.
Wouldn't it be better, for the sake of appearances if nothing else, to have someone external to the department conduct that sort of review?
Also, why are the Fargo cops making the call on whether or not criminal charges are appropriate? That's not a call cops make.
Cops investigate things and find facts. Whether those facts add up to a criminal charge is a question of law. In other words, a decision for lawyers to make, not cops, and certainly not the cops who are investigating one of their coworkers.
I suspect, in this instance, an external investigation would probably have resulted in the same findings. A review by prosecutors probably wouldn't have resulted in charges either.
But that's just this instance. In other instances, the facts may not paint so clear a picture.
The Fargo Police Department needs a better process for these matters.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.