Close to Home: A need for accountability, process and patience with Andy Lopez case

  • 4/16/2012: B5:

    3/5/2012: A1:

    1/29/2012: A1:

    PC: Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, Thursday Jan. 19, 2012 in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

In criminal investigations, there is always a tension between providing as much information as possible and maintaining the integrity of the investigative process. That's why, over these past few months, members of my staff and I have talked with the community, answering questions about the criminal justice system at public forums and in the media.

Having recently received the investigative reports about the Andy Lopez case from the Santa Rosa Police Department, I believe this is a good time to explain my office's role and attempt to answer questions about this heartbreaking tragedy.

The district attorney's sole responsibility is to determine criminal liability — not to evaluate the Sheriff's Office protocol or training procedures. That said, I am fully committed to ensuring every effort is expended on a thorough investigation and that no stone is left unturned in the search for the truth.

To carry out this responsibility, it may be that additional work needs to be done after receiving investigative reports. We may need to consult expert witnesses, conduct forensic analysis of evidence, interview additional witnesses or obtain additional records. The same evaluation process is used in all cases submitted to the District Attorney's Office.

The burden of proof in a criminal case is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest legal standard. We have a responsibility to serve as neutral fact-finders, ensuring the integrity and fairness of the investigation and seeking justice with the utmost seriousness.

Once a determination has been made, it will be made public, including the basis for the decision. We will provide a summary to the civil grand jury, as we do in every case handled in accordance with the Law Enforcement Chiefs' Protocol. The Santa Rosa Police Department, as the lead agency and custodian of the investigative reports, will provide the reports to the grand jury upon completion of my review — also according to protocol.

Investigative reports are never released to the public while under review for the possibility of criminal charges. Doing so could compromise the investigation, and it is vital the investigation not be tainted and that the suspect's due process rights, including the right to a fair trial, as well as the victims' rights, are protected.

Finally, I will continue to release any information that does not hamper the investigation. I am committed to engaging in community dialogue — to the greatest extent I am able — to assist the community in healing from this tragedy.

Some have asked if the state Attorney General's Office would be the better agency to review this case. Early on the attorney general confirmed my office has no basis for conflict in handling this matter. Additionally, I have spoken to representatives of the FBI and the U. S. attorney for the Northern District of California about a possible review of the investigation for potential civil rights violations. The FBI has received a set of investigative reports in accordance with the chiefs' protocol.

Citizens deserve transparency and accountability from their elected leaders. I fully understand how difficult it is for the public to wait. I am dedicated to completing this review as soon as possible, while not compromising the integrity of the process.

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