Records: Longer, multistep review of officer-involved shootings leading to yearslong waits for answers

Attorney investigations of police involved shootings requiring more time for them to be available for the public.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jamee Johnson died at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop in Jacksonville. His mother, Kimberly Austin, said she was the last to know in her family, and once she heard, it was too late.

“They said he was pretty much, my son was pretty much the aggressor. So, I was, like, ‘Well, show me the body video, body camera video.’ And he was, like, ‘No, you know, it’s an ongoing investigation,’” said Austin of her talks with the State Attorney’s Office.

“I was, like, ‘Well, if you’re saying that he did those things, let us see that for ourselves, you know, and then we can accept whatever happens.’"

It has been nearly six months since the 22-year-old Florida A&M University student was shot and killed by a Jacksonville sheriff’s officer, but Austin said her family still hasn’t been allowed to see what happened to her son.

As protests spread across the country over the killing of George Floyd, Jacksonville protesters demanded to see police body camera video showing Johnson’s death and video from other cases still trapped in the review process.

Tuesday, after more than a week of protests, State Attorney Melissa Nelson announced that her office plans to determine a specific time frame in which police body camera footage of officer-involved shootings must be released.

It’s a subtle difference from the previous policy in which the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said it was “legally prevented” from releasing the footage until the state attorney, JSO’s Response to Resistance Board and administrative officials reviewed the cases -- a process that, for some cases, has taken upward of three years to complete.

A News4Jax I-TEAM analysis of data from JSO’s Open Data page found, under Nelson, the State Attorney’s Office for the 4th Judicial Circuit is, on average, taking longer to review cases than the previous administration.

The result is a longer wait for families and the public to know what led up to officers’ use of deadly force.

Data show, under the previous state attorney, Angela Corey, on average, reports were released 226 days after the original incident. While, under Nelson, it took an average of 611 days to complete the review of an officer-involved shooting.

Figures released by JSO show two cases that occurred before October 2016 are still pending review from the Response to Resistance Board and from administration.

In a memo released Tuesday, the State Attorney’s Office admittedly said the process for handling officer-involved shootings changed when Nelson took office, specifically, it added more steps.

The policy put in place during Nelson’s tenure requires law enforcement to investigate after an officer is involved in a shooting and forward the completed report to the assistant state attorney assigned to the agency. The attorney reviews the case, prepares a draft report and then presents it to the OIS Review Team.

“This review serves as an additional check and balance to ensure the investigation is thorough and the conclusions reached are sound. The multiple levels of review that each OIS receives highlights the importance we attach to thorough, correct, and reliable opinions rendered in these cases,” stated the State Attorney’s Office memo.

The policy, however, does not put a deadline on completing the investigation, records show.

The Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee on Monday will take up a resolution urging JSO and the State Attorney’s Office to “refine and improve” the current procedures for the release of body camera footage related to claims of police violence or misconduct.

Johnson’s mother said she isn’t sure what to expect when the video of his death is ultimately released, other than some sort of closure. She’s not even sure she wants to be the one to watch it.

“If they release it, you know, I’ll be glad of that, so we can really just really see for ourselves instead of hearing this happened, that happened, you know, and we can just move on from it to deal with it find a way to deal with it and move on,” she said. “It helps a lot that there are so many people that are out there wanting the same things for us and for Jamee to get some type of justice.”

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.