Accountability: FBI deems agents faultless in 100 percent of shootings over 18 years

posted at 9:31 pm on June 20, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

Republicans in the Senate are right now using their savvy to negotiate for the same fence that Congress has been legally required to fund and build since 2007 yet hasn’t while simultaneously promising us that they’re totally going to do all the enforcement in this immigration bill, even though blanket legalization of illegal immigrants will happen first. It’s yet another example of how the federal government does not feel it must live by the laws it imposes on its citizens or even the laws it writes for itself.

You lie to a federal investigator or Member of Congress under oath? You’ll likely be Martha Stewarting a couple months in prison. When Eric Holder lies to Congress under oath? He tells them he was “misinterpreted” and Blagojeviches his way through a second term as the highest ranking law-enforcement officer in the country.

Lose your receipts when facing audit? Say hello to miserable, lengthy investigation, hefty penalties, maybe liens on your property. When the IRS loses receipts? Oops, moving on!

You owe the federal government $500 after a year-long investigation suspiciously timed directly after your whistleblowing? You better pay up. They owe you $8,300? Sorry, statute of limitations is up on that, buddy.

A NYT story reported this week on the suspiciously flawless record of FBI agents in shootings from 1993 to 2011. Too often, with all government employees including law enforcement, things the rest of us would likely go to jail for, are met with virtually no consequences. I have great respect for law enforcement who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others, but that doesn’t mean they’re flawless and should avoid punishment for wrongdoing. You don’t have to click through on too many of Radley Balko’s “puppycide” posts to figure that out. Even if you leave innocent people out of the equation, there’s a virtual epidemic of innocent household pets coming under deadly fire.

After contradictory stories emerged about an F.B.I. agent’s killing last month of a Chechen man in Orlando, Fla., who was being questioned over ties to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the bureau reassured the public that it would clear up the murky episode.

“The F.B.I. takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally,” a bureau spokesman said.

But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally shot about 70 “subjects” and wounded about 80 others — and every one of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I. spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of improper intentional shootings.

In the style of Eric Holder, the FBI is of course often the only investigating entity in these cases. Here are some of the consequences agents face when actually disciplined:

Occasionally, the F.B.I. does discipline an agent. Out of 289 deliberate shootings covered by the documents, many of which left no one wounded, five were deemed to be “bad shoots,” in agents’ parlance — encounters that did not comply with the bureau’s policy, which allows deadly force if agents fear that their lives or those of fellow agents are in danger. A typical punishment involved adding letters of censure to agents’ files. But in none of the five cases did a bullet hit anyone.

Critics say the fact that for at least two decades no agent has been disciplined for any instance of deliberately shooting someone raises questions about the credibility of the bureau’s internal investigations. Samuel Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha who studies internal law enforcement investigations, called the bureau’s conclusions about cases of improper shootings “suspiciously low.”

In other news, Lois Lerner remains on paid vacation.

Radley Balko’s “Rise of the Warrior Cop” comes out this summer, and addresses the many things that go tragically wrong in America every month in police tactics amped up with military weaponry and mission creep. If those we employ to represent and protect us are not subject to the same laws and punishments as we are, we’re really more subjects than citizens.

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