A Georgia Press Association attorney says the Statesboro Police Department violated its own procedure on incident reporting when officers failed to include key details in a report about an officer-involved shooting in October.
After several records requests since the shooting from the Statesboro Herald, the police department and the city of Statesboro refuse to release the name of an officer who fired shots that resulted in the death of a 61-year-old man at his Rackley Street home in October.
The incident report provided to the Herald on March 3 lists “aggravated assault (gun)” and “civil dispute” as the incident type, and lists “other” under weapons used, but makes no mention of shots fired, or of a man being killed. The report does not list the name of any officer in connection with the shooting; only the names of officers filing the report.
The report provided to the Herald on Nov. 1, just four days after the shooting, did not even list “aggravated assault” and made no reference to firearms.
After reviewing the incident report as well as the Statesboro Police Department’s own standard operating procedure, Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson said it appears the department violated its own policy.
“The Statesboro Police Department has an SOP and did not follow it in the incident that you are investigating,” he told the Statesboro Herald.
A request sent Wednesday for comment on the disparity between the Rackley Street shooting and other shooting-related reports, sent to Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner, who supervises the police department, and Statesboro city attorney J. Alvin Leaphart IV, went unanswered Friday.
A Statesboro City Hall employee told the Statesboro Herald that Leaphart was unavailable Friday, and Turner did not return messages left by phone Friday.
Standard operating procedure
The Statesboro Police Department’s standard operating procedure regarding incident reports states the reports are “Used in describing the incident which has occurred and those actions taken by the officer, reporting names and other related information on persons involved in incidents, recording serialized and non-serialized articles, events, suspects and witnesses, statements and investigative leads.”
The Rackley Street shooting incident report did not describe or even mention the shooting. Witnesses told the Statesboro Herald that George Pryor, 61, was arguing with police and a code enforcement officer about a van that was in violation of city code. While the van was being towed, Pryor went inside his home, got a gun and came back outside, opening fire, witnesses said. The unnamed officer, acting in the line of duty, returned fire, which killed Pryor.
The report failed to describe actions taken by the three officers who were listed, did not list serial numbers, a description or even mention of a firearm in the narrative. It did not list witnesses, statements or investigative leads. Statesboro Herald reporters at the scene that day interviewed witnesses who gave details about the shooting.
A records request by the Statesboro Herald resulted in the police department providing 93 pages of reports detailing shootings or shots fired. In a review of the reports of shooting-related incidents over the past year, Statesboro police consistently listed victim’s names, suspect names and details of the incidents in reports, unlike the Rackley St. incident.
Open Records Act
Hollie Manheimer, the executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, also gave an opinion regarding proper reporting of incidents.
“Under the Open Records Act, initial incident reports are always subject to release, regardless of whether they are part of an active investigation,” she said. “Furthermore, any additional pages such as narratives and other portions of an initial incident report should be disclosed.”
The Open Records Act does not allow for redaction of defendant names in cases such as the Rackley Street incident “and there is no special treatment for police officers or other categories of individuals,” she said. “In drafting its responses to open records requests, the public agency must justify in writing the reason it is withholding any information and cite the portion of the law, and in this case there is no justification for withholding names.”
Statesboro city officials, including Turner, Mayor Jan Moore and Leaphart, have said there are no additional incident reports including mention of the shooting.
At least one authority, however, expressed opinions in support of the police department’s keeping details of the case close.
Former officer understands non-release
Atlanta-area attorney Lance LoRusso, who is a former law enforcement officer and author of the book “When Cops Kill,” is familiar with what a police officer experiences after having to use deadly force. He said he understands why the Statesboro police report about the Rackley Street incident lacked details of the shooting.
Because the case was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, it is not surprising that the Statesboro police are keeping details under wraps until the investigation is over, he said.
“The investigation is not complete, so it doesn’t surprise me (that the report did not list details of the shooting),” he said. “It has only been five months since the incident and it is not uncommon for an investigation to take several months.”
Dr. Dick Martin, an associate professor of public safety in Mercer University’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies, said state-accredited agencies must submit a report “whenever an employee takes an action that results in, or is alleged to have resulted in injury or death of another person.”
This does not indicate that the report is available to the public and implies an internal report only, he said.
In October, Turner said both the police officer and code enforcement officer involved in the incident were placed on paid administrative leave. City officials have declined to answer questions about the officers’ current status.
Witnesses told the Statesboro Herald that Pryor had owned the van for years, and it had sentimental value to him and he intended to have it repaired.
The case remains under GBI investigation.
Other police shooting cases
There are several recent cases in south Georgia in which the name of an officer in an officer-involved shooting was released, including one in Statesboro.
On Sept. 29, 2010, Eric Pringle was shot and killed by Bulloch County sheriff's Deputy Rey Rodriguez after Pringle shot and wounded Statesboro police officer Charles Brown when police responded to a complaint about loud music at what was then the Varsity Apartments on Rucker Lane. The sheriff's office released Rodriguez's name right away. Rodriguez was later honored for his bravery in the incident.
On Feb. 22 in Augusta, Georgia Regents University police Officer Wesley Martin — whose name was included in a university police report — shot and killed a man who accelerated toward his patrol vehicle, which was blocking the entrance to an apartment complex, according to The Augusta Chronicle.
On Oct. 4, two Waycross police officers — Officer Casey Caswell and Lt. Scott Rowell, whose names were included in a police incident report — shot and killed a man who police said lunged at them with a large grilling fork in one hand and a knife in the other, according to an Oct. 9 report by The Florida Times-Union.
And on March 20, two Bibb County sheriff’s deputies – Sgt. Scott Johnson and Deputy James Litton – were patrolling a neighborhood when they conducted a traffic stop on a 54-year-old man. Sheriff David Davis told The Telegraph of Macon that shots were fired and the man was wounded, but he was treated injuries not considered life-threatening. It was unclear whether the man fired at the officers. The sheriff released the officers’ names the night of the incident, according to the newspaper.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.