In years past police officers, secure in the knowledge that his/her administration would be generally fair, would agree to speak to the internal affairs (I/A) officer when requested on matters you believed to be minor. No longer can you afford to do that. We are living in different times and the rules are changing constantly.
Three Reasons to Consult with a New Jersey Attorney During an Internal Affairs Investigation
In the current climate you should have counsel, as a matter of course, the minute you are made aware that an internal affairs investigation has commenced with you as a target. The first reason is that when you are called for an interview, your attorney will be aware of it and present during the statement. It is not an adversarial process where we can argue or intervene but we can listen to your answers, and in some ways, more importantly, listen to the questions so we get a sense of what the administration has or thinks it has and where the case is headed. If we are not a participant, we will be working in the dark until or unless the discovery process begins and then it may be too late to resolve the matter in simple fashion.
A second reason is that the current NJ Attorney General is no fan of yours. He makes public statements of supporting police officers and then ramrods new policies through at a ridiculous rate, over 20 directives and revisions of directives in his less than 3 years in office all directed at law enforcement officers. This includes two revisions of the Internal Affairs Guidelines, the creation of a policy that mandates public disclosure of Internal Affairs discipline of officers for punishments of 5 days suspension or more or demotion and a policy to assail your ability to continue in your profession in the directive governing so-called Brady and Giglio information. The last one pertains to a review of your conduct, even if not deemed criminal or even a violation of policy but involves a question of whether someone (not a court) determines that you were less than candid. If that occurs, you will be put on a list where the prosecutors must disclose to defense attorneys that you have been found to be untruthful. This will occur each and every time your name is listed in a trial file. This makes you a liability to your department, the county prosecutor’s office and the provability of any case with which your name becomes associated. It also provides a reason to take action to remove you from your position as your existence as an officer after this finding, is an impediment to criminal cases being made and prosecuted successfully.
In short you are at the end of six years of vilifying you as police officers for things you do and things you did not do. It began in 2014 when the State took away the ability of county prosecutor’s offices to investigate incidents of officer involved deadly force all stemming from a concern about fairness the impetus of which was a media created and perpetuated lie about an illegal police officer involved shooting in Ferguson, Missouri which the Justice Department, despite the condemnation (without information) of the officer by the then President of the United States and the then Attorney General of the United States, ultimately determined was a so called “good shoot.” That ultimate determination did nothing to prevent the end of the officer’s career, his designation nationally as a villain or the danger it exposed he and his family to by virtue of the misinformation and lies spoken about the incident to this day.
The NJ Attorney General has continued in this tradition. He has commented publicly about actions of police officers here in New Jersey and thus put his heavy finger on cases where he and his office have little to no knowledge. This is not a friendly environment for law enforcement officers, thus I caution you to tread lightly and carefully when wading into an Internal Affairs investigation into your conduct and have counsel involved at the earliest possible moment. This will not stop investigations or unjustified public outings but it will ensure that you and your attorney are aware of everything that can be known from the onset and thus, be forearmed and better prepared to anticipate and address issues as they unfold whether administrative or criminal and begin the fight for your rights and good name without delay.