For at least the second time under Mayor Bill Peduto's watch, the city is promising "outside review" of potential excessive force by police without saying who will conduct that review or how they'll be selected.
This afternoon, the city announced its internal affairs unit, known as the Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI), is investigating a Wednesday incident in which police engaged in a high-speed Downtown pursuit of Devon Davis, a 23-year-old who was wanted on warrants for illegal gun possession and drug delivery.
After wrecking his car, police chased Davis on foot and eventually arrested him, using force that included a leg sweep to bring him to the ground, striking him "on the side or stomach multiple times" and hitting him in the leg with a baton, according to a criminal complaint cited by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
. Police wrote in the complaint that Davis was resisting arrest, but "some witnesses said they heard the man scream, 'I’m not doing anything,' as officers encircling him struck him with their fists or a baton," the P-G
The allegation that the police may have used excessive force has prompted the city to promise that "as with all use of force cases where impropriety is alleged, OMI will seek an outside review by a third party expert as part of its investigation," according to a press release issued this afternoon.
In other words, the city is promising two investigations: one by the city's internal investigators and one by an outside source. But, without explanation, the city is refusing to say who that outside source will be or whether their final reports should be public. "OMI hasn’t decided who that third party will be," says mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty. “That’s all we have to say at this time.”
Of course, it's possible the city hasn't figured out who the outside investigator will be. But it's not the first time the city has stayed silent
on who these outside investigators are or why the public should trust the findings of an anonymous investigator. In response to an incident at PrideFest last summer in which a teenage girl was punched by a police officer while he was trying to arrest her, the city made similar assurances about hiring an independent investigator. That was when the city announced a new policy to use outside investigators to review excessive force cases.
In that case, an outside investigator ruled that the officer's actions were justified
. The city never publicly said who had conducted that investigation or offered a rationale for how they reached that conclusion, a move that drew criticism from some police accountability experts.
Citizen Police Review Board executive director Beth Pittinger, who has launched her own investigation into the Davis case, says the city should solicit outside opinions in excessive force cases, but “I don’t think that should be a secret.
"They’re going to have to pay them for their opinion – that’s a matter of public money.”