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Dallas County DA announces creation of unit to independently investigate all police shootings

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DALLAS — The Dallas County district attorney will create a two-person unit to independently investigate police shootings so prosecutors will no longer have to wait for law enforcement to bring the cases to them.

District Attorney Craig Watkins said he was already working on establishing the unit before national attention shifted recently to Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting of an unarmed black teenager has prompted protests.

In Dallas, two separate, officer-involved fatal shootings occurred within a 24-hour span this month.

The first occurred Sunday when an off-duty police officer working security shot an unarmed man. The man tried to force his way into a passing vehicle and then charged at the officer, police said. Police shot another man on Monday after authorities said he assaulted family members and displayed knives while approaching an officer.

The Dallas shootings are under investigation.

Watkins said the recent shootings show the need for his special unit, which will go to the scene of every police shooting. Its investigations will run concurrently with police inquiries, the Dallas Morning News reported (http://bit.ly/1rzpjF2 ).

"I think it would be somewhat irresponsible if we didn't address the fact that there is a lack of trust with the police," Watkins said. "This is 2014, and we need to change the mind-set and how we deal with certain things."

Dallas Police Chief David Brown said he supports Watkins' idea because the unit will "add another layer of oversight."

Brown said it should improve public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.

Bob Gorsky, a lawyer for the Dallas Police Association, said the group opposes the unit's establishment. He said the city's police department is "fully capable of investigating officer-involved shootings."

"We do not believe that a parallel investigation by the district attorney is needed, nor is it an effective use of taxpayer money," he said.

The special unit is expected to cost $200,000 a year, but its funding has not been finalized yet. The Commissioners Court will seal the funding when it approves the county budget in September.

Ryan Brown, the county budget officer, said commissioners have already showed their support for the unit, saying, "We pretty much have it approved."


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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