Grand jury to state police: Give up trooper shooting probes

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli

EASTON, Pa. — The “arrogant” Pennsylvania state police should stop investigating shootings by troopers to ensure such probes are transparent and “free from potential bias or conflicts of interest,” a grand jury said in a scathing report released Tuesday.

The grand jury urged Gov. Wolf to force the agency to allow independent investigation when a shooting involves one of its own, citing a national climate of “distrust of law enforcement” over police shootings and whether they’re investigated thoroughly.

The state police have long insisted on retaining jurisdiction over probes of line-of-duty shootings by troopers.

“PSP leadership have a somewhat arrogant opinion of their own superiority over any other law enforcement agency, which has contributed to their recalcitrant position,” the grand jury said.

Spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said the state police would review the grand jury’s report and “respond as appropriate.” Wolf’s office had no immediate comment.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who has been sharply critical of the state police policy, released the 38-page report. He sought the grand jury after state police refused to allow his detectives to take the lead on a probe of a fatal shooting near Easton. Troopers shot and killed Anthony Ardo last May 20 after he ignored their commands and attempted to light the fuse of a firework mortar around his neck.

The grand jury concluded that Ardo’s shooting was justified. At Morganelli’s behest, the panel then began investigating state police procedure on trooper-involved shootings, concluding after months of study that one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies is going about it the wrong way.

The state police continued to insist that the policy works.

“The Pennsylvania State Police remains confident that the necessary protocols are in place to conduct all investigations in a fair, impartial, and transparent manner,” Tarkowski said Tuesday. “The department has a breadth and depth of resources available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that is unsurpassed by any other law enforcement agency in the commonwealth.”

Though the grand jury ruled that troopers were justified in shooting Ardo, the panel said it had “serious questions and concerns” about how state police conducted the probe.

“The involved troopers were given special treatment by the investigating team … not generally afforded to others who are the subject of a criminal investigation,” the report said.

The grand jury also revealed that cameras in the troopers’ patrol cars were not running when the troopers first began interacting with Ardo, hindering the investigation. The panel recommended that state police outfit all troopers with body cameras. State police ignored a similar recommendation by another grand jury in 2014.

The grand jury’s recommendations are not binding.

State police went to court in an unsuccessful effort to quash the grand jury, arguing it had no authority to investigate its internal procedures. A judge overruled the state police in November and said the panel could continue its work. Northampton County Judge Stephen Baratta accepted the grand jury’s findings last Wednesday and ruled its report could be released to the public.

“We viewed the filing by the Pennsylvania State Police … as an attempt to obstruct the grand jury,” the panel wrote. “The filing represented an arrogant attempt to intimidate the grand jury.”