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Civilian Review Boards and Garrity
By Jack Ryan

Week 4 of 6 in a series on Garrity issues in Law Enforcement
Weekly Article distributed to subscribers of the free PATC E-Newsletter

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As civilian oversight of police has become more common-place, the issue has arisen as to whether a civilian review board can compel statements from officers.   The Court of Appeals of Colorado, ruled recently that a civilian review board could not compel an officer’s statement regarding the use of excessive force.i Denver v. Powell involved two use of force incidents.  In the first, the officer was accused of pushing a drunk-driving suspect’s head into a wall.  In the second, the officer had fatally shot a suspect.  In both cases, the department and the state attorney had reviewed the officers’ actions and had declined to take further action.

The civilian oversight commission that was set up by ordinance and had subpoena power subpoenaed the two officers to give testimony after the family members asked the commission to review the officers’ conduct.   Both officers appeared before the commission and asserted their 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The commission then sought a court order compelling the officers to speak.  The district court issued the order compelling the officers to give testimony leading to the appeal in this case.  In its review of the case the court of appeals ruled that the officers could not be compelled to give testimony before the review commission.  The court agreed with the position of the officers that since the commission was not there employer and could not discipline the officers for not speaking, the officers would not be immune from their testimony since there would be no threat of discipline.  The court rejected the commission’s argument that the subpoena was sufficient state compulsion to meet the requirements of Garrity and Gardner.


i See, Denver v. Powell, 969 P.2d 776 (1998)


About the Author:

John “Jack” Ryan retired from his position as a police captain with the Providence Police Department in Providence, Rhode Island in June of 2002, having served that department for twenty years.  In his last assignment, Captain Ryan was responsible for the department’s research and policy as well as taking an active role in training.

   He attained a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.; a Masters Degree in Administration of Justice from Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. and his Juris Doctorate from Suffolk University Law School.  He is a member of both the Rhode Island and Federal Bar.
Since retiring, Jack has conducted numerous training sessions around the country for the Public Agency Training Council.  Among the programs, he is responsible for a course on “Policy Development for Public Safety Agencies”“;Advanced Internal Affairs”; “Liability and Risk Management for Law Enforcement Agencies” and “Legal and Liability Issues in the Public Schools.”  Jack is also a co-director of the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute, which provides services relating to risk management for law enforcement agencies nationwide.  These services include training, high risk/critical task policy review, policy development, improved supervision, audits, risk assessments, legal support and expert witness services.

Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute
5101 Decatur Boulevard Suite L
Indianapolis Indiana 46241
(800) 365-0119





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