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Our View: City should release officer's name

On Oct. 28, 2013, a Statesboro police officer and a city code enforcement officer went to the home of George Pryor to remove a van that neighbors said had sat idle in the yard next to his house "for years."

Witnesses told the Statesboro Herald that on that Oct. 28 day, after he was served with papers to remove the van, Pryor went inside his Rackley Street home in west Statesboro, returned with a gun and shot at the officers. The Statesboro police officer returned fire. An autopsy revealed Pryor died from multiple gun shots as a result of "an altercation with police," said Bulloch County Coroner Jake Futch.

The investigation of the incident immediately was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is standard policy for any officer-involved shooting. No findings from the investigation have been released and the details about the shooting incident described above have not been confirmed. However, there seems to be no question of the basic fact that Pryor fired his gun first, and the police officer responded with appropriate deadly force.

It is a tragedy that Pryor died that day, but in our view, when he opened fire on a police officer, he brought the tragic consequences upon himself. In fact, the officer returned fire as part of his sworn duty to protect the public.

In the Statesboro Herald's normal course of covering the news event, the reporter asked for the name of the officer who shot Pryor and about the department's policy for officer-involved shootings. Cpl. Justin Samples, the public information officer for the Statesboro Police Department, did not release the name, but said the police officer and the code enforcement officer were placed on paid administrative leave.

That the name of the officer involved in the shooting was not released was surprising because following the shooting death of Eric Pringle in 2010 in a wooded area next to The Varsity apartments in Statesboro, the name of the Bulloch County sheriff's deputy who shot Pringle was released immediately. Deputy Rey Rodriguez killed him after Pringle shot Statesboro police Officer Charles Brown.

The Herald did not ask for the name of the officer who shot Pryor because we want to sensationalize the incident. It is our job as the newspaper of record in Statesboro and Bulloch County to report the news in our community. We believe the public has a right to know the name of an officer paid with their tax dollars who discharges his weapon in the course of doing his duty that results in the death of an individual. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The Herald filed a request under the Georgia Open Records Act for the incident report regarding the shooting. Every member of the public is entitled to receive a copy of all police incident reports, not just the media.

The incident report given to the Herald only detailed in the briefest manner possible the reason code enforcement went to Pryor's home. It said nothing about the shooting. We asked for that record, but we were told everything else was turned over to the GBI and nothing more would be released.

In the past few weeks, we have sent several more Open Records Act requests about the details of the shooting. The city's bottom line response: There is no incident report regarding the shooting so there is no public record to turn over.

Upon learning there is no incident report, David E. Hudson, an Augusta attorney representing the Georgia Press Association, said: "A shooting takes place and the City Police Department does not document it or the participants? ... If the incident reports as written are all the City has, then that's all it must produce. But the story there is that the City did not document a shooting or the names of the officers involved."

Taking the police department at its word, we find it stunning that no incident report documenting the shooting, or who took part in it, was filed. Statesboro police file thousands of incident reports every year. Many involve violent crimes and shootings by suspects. But none was filed involving a shooting by an officer of the department? If that's a policy, it's a bad one and we urge City Manager Frank Parker and Public Safety Director Wendell Turner to change the policy.

The GBI told the Herald it is up to Statesboro police to release the name of the officer, while the Police Department said it's up to the GBI. The Herald is aware of the name of the officer who fired the shots, but we believe it is the responsibility of Statesboro Police Department or the city of Statesboro to either confirm the name or send out an official release with the officer's name.

When police use the ultimate measure of their authority, whatever the circumstances, we believe the public has a right to know the identity of the officer involved in the immediate aftermath of the incident. That minimal transparency prevents misconceptions and creates public confidence that the department is willing to turn an investigative eye on itself.

 

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