ASP decision lacks fortitude

It is very likely that no one — especially the police — are pleased with the course of events leading to the death of Monroe Isadore last Saturday. Having to do one’s duty can be an onerous burden, even when the discharge of that duty is perfectly legal, sound and rational.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter likely knows the truth of these sentiments.

As recently reported, Hunter asked to be recused from the process of investigating police actions in the Isadore case. Citing the close relationship that his office must maintain with the police, Hunter did the right thing. As subsequent events have demonstrated he is probably feeling his own onerous burden.

Hunter made a very wise and prudent move in asking the Arkansas State Police to take over the investigation. ASP has since rebuked Hunter’s request. We find this turn to be particularly unpalatable.

ASP notified Hunter of its decision in a letter written by Maj. Henry LaMar, commander of the ASP’s Criminal Investigation Division. LaMar stated that a request for an independent investigation “must be made in a timely manner to permit Special Agents of the Criminal Investigation Division access to the shooting scene prior to the removal of evidence and before the officers involved in the shooting are permitted to be released and interact following witness segregation.”

He further stated that these kinds of investigations are limited to the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer, and an investigation of a 9-1-1 call, the initial law enforcement response, the interactions of law enforcement personnel and witnesses before the shooting and the “procedural process by which SWAT officers made a decision to enter a residence would not be applicable” under state law.

We view this “reasoning” as contemptible. While hiding behind a thin veil of legal technicality, the ASP inadvertently reveals a more probable motivation: No political advantage. Regardless how the investigation might have turned out, ASP wouldn’t emerge in an indisputably heroic light.

In the unlikely event that its investigators were to find fault with some element of the Pine Bluff Police Department’s response to Isadore’s barricaded fusillade, they would be seen by some as traitors to their law enforcement brothers. Were they to find no wrongdoing on the part of PBPD, they would be seen as merely covering up for their aforementioned blue brethren.

There is also the omnipresent racial dimension to this sad situation: a black suspect was killed by the police. To some this terrible turn is always a reflection of deep-seated racial animus and of a systematic effort to keep certain groups on the social margins. Again, none of this presents an advantageous place for the ASP.

Despite the fact that ASP would essentially wade into a public relations hornets’ nest, we are unsympathetic. Just as the officers of the PBPD had an unpleasant job to do, so does the ASP. As above they just don’t see it that way.

Fortunately, Hunter has remained stalwart in his drive to give the public a fair, open and transparent review of the incident. Unlike so many of our local elected officials, Hunter seems to recognize that the appearance of impropriety can be just as damning as actual impropriety.

To this end, he has requested that Circuit Court Judge Berlin C. Jones appoint a special prosecutor to provide the needed review. Jones has signed the order. Hopefully, this will dispel lingering doubts — at least among those with a sufficiently open mind to heed whatever comes of it.