Starting July 1, 2021, The Attorney General’s Office will investigate police shootings involving the death of an unarmed civilian. On June 24, 2021, the California Department of Justice released an information bulletin interpreting Assembly Bill (AB) 1506. AB 1506 amended Government Code section 12525.3(b)(1) and requires that effective July 1, 2021, the DOJ must investigate all officer-involved-shootings that result in the death of an “unarmed civilian”. The June 24th bulletin is meant interpret of some of the ambiguous language used in the statute and to provide guidance to local law enforcement in determining if a case needs to be turned over to DOJ.

The DOJ defines “officer-involved” as all shootings committed while an officer is on duty, as well as any off-duty shooting where the officer is acting under color of authority. A “shooting” does not include use of less lethal devices such as bean bags, stun guns, or rubber bullets. The law defines an unarmed civilian as anyone “not in possession of a deadly weapon.” According to the June 24th bulletin a “deadly weapon” includes all firearms and BB/ pellet guns, even if unloaded or inoperable. This clarification is helpful because the statutory language is ambiguous as to if unloaded firearms constitute “deadly weapons”.

However, the DOJ’s interpretation of “in possession” is less straightforward. The bulletin states that a civilian is in possession if the weapon is “under the civilian’s dominion or control at the time of the shooting.” “Where a civilian attempts to take control of an officer’s firearm, the civilian is not in possession unless the officer loses control of the firearm.” This means that until the moment when the civilian actually gains control of the firearm, they are deemed to be “unarmed”, regardless of what tactics they may use against the officer or how close they may come to actually taking the firearm.

Beginning July 1st, law enforcement agencies must immediately notify the DOJ when there is an officer-involved shooting of an unarmed civilian. The DOJ requests that agencies also contact them in situations where it is undetermined if the individual was unarmed.

Representatives from Department of Justice have been meeting with stakeholders, including local prosecutors, law enforcement agency heads, and police unions, regarding the DOJ protocols for these investigations.  David E. Mastagni participated in the meetings.

After initially intending to handle the complete investigation, DOJ currently plans to