A New Mexico district attorney's latest experience shows exactly why government prosecutors are often reluctant to go after police officers involved in shootings.
On Monday, Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg charged two Albuquerque Police Department officers with murder for the shooting death of James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man, in March. On Tuesday, Brandenburg told local news station KRQE News 13 that city officials locked out a top prosecutor from her office from a briefing for a separate police shooting that occurred earlier in the day.
Deputy City Attorney Kathryn Levy, who represents the Albuquerque Police Department, reportedly told the prosecutor that Brandenburg's office has "a conflict of interest" and can't attend the briefing because it already charged officers in the Boyd case, according to Brandenburg.
Levy couldn't be reached for comment on Wednesday. KRQE reported that Levy "refused to answer questions" when contacted on Tuesday evening.
Brandenburg's accusation, if true, reinforces exactly why prosecutors can be so reluctant to go after police, as protesters argued was the case during the grand jury investigation for the August 9 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Prosecutors need to build and maintain a good relationship with police to be successful at their everyday jobs, since cops usually investigate the criminal cases prosecutors are working on.
"They do work in the courts … everyday with police officers," Thomas Nolan, a criminologist at the Merrimack College of Massachusetts, said in December. "They forge professional relationships with them. Sometimes they have personal relationships with them."
If prosecutors can't maintain those relationships, their jobs become much more difficult. Police departments and their supporters can — and, as Brandenburg's example shows, will — ostracize officials who go after them. For a prosecutor whose election often relies on getting big indictments in criminal cases, the risk of being shut out by police can prove too much.
Further reading: Grand juries usually don't indict police officers. Should they be changed?