Group reviewing use of force incidents in CCSO monthly since June

A group of law enforcement members and three civilians have been meeting monthly since June to review use of force incidents within the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office since June.

The Electric reported in June that Sheriff Jesse Slaughter was creating the use of force review committee in response to national protests and calls for police reform following the May death of George Floyd.

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In June, Slaughter said the committee would include the sheriff, county attorney, CCSO training staff, a defense attorney and a citizen member. The group has since been expanded to include a staffer of the Great Falls Public Schools Indian Education division.

Since June, the group has met monthly and reviewed about 50 incidents that include a wide range of degrees of force and many of which occurred in the Adult Detention Center, according to CCSO officials.

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The citizen members sign confidentiality agreements and review reports, videos and evidence associated with a use of force case.

In June, Slaughter said the citizen members would be able to provide outside perspective, potential advice on improving procedures and “provide a layer of transparency,” for CCSO.

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He said during an Oct. 2 press conference that this year there has been civil unrest and discussions related to defunding or reforming law enforcement that in many ways have “to do with misunderstandings.” Slaughter said law enforcement has not done a good enough job of educating the public on their operations, policies and protocols.

That’s why he created the review committee, he said, to have outside perspective and ideally prevent any improper use of force incidents or have the citizen input in the event that a major incident occur.

The citizen members will serve one-year terms and so the makeup of the committee will likely change annually, Slaughter said.

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Previously, Slaughter said any use of force incident is reviewing by a supervisor to make sure it was within CCSO policy and the law. He said that since deputies typically respond alone, they don’t have many use of force cases.

Since June, the committee gets a packet of information pertaining to any use of force incidents the week before their monthly meetings and met at the CCSO.

Slaughter said the group discusses every incident and whether the use of force was justified and even if it was, if it was done within CCSO policy.

The CCSO’s two captains, one for operations and one for the jail, present all of the incidents to the group and the CCO’s training lieutenant attends to answer questions about training and policies, Slaughter said.

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Slaughter said there are a lot of use of force tactics that are legal, but don’t look good to an outside observer.

Slaughter said the citizen members “were astonished” at how much more force they thought we should have used in some situations or how long it took deputies or corrections officers to use force.

Slaughter said that ultimately, it’s the county attorney’s role to determine whether a use of force incident was justified and if not, whether to press charges or if there was a policy violation that should be handled administratively at the CCSO. If something was deemed by the committee or county attorney to be unjustified, Slaughter said another law enforcement agency would be brought in to do the investigation as would a different prosecutor, as in the case for officer involved shootings, to reduce conflicts of interest.

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If there was an unjustified use of force incident or a controversial incident involving CCSO, Slaughter said the idea is that the citizen committee members would be able to said they’ve seen the evidence, reviewed it and been part of the conversation.

But, because they sign confidentiality agreements and some incidents would be part of active investigations, Slaughter said it would again be the county attorney’s determination on what details they could publicly release.

The CCSO doesn’t use body cameras, but there are cameras in the deputy’s vehicles and throughout the jail. Slaughter said the new CCSO vehicles will have upgraded camera equipment that costs $12,000 each and are being funded through a grant.