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House Democrats are pushing to require states to use independent prosecutors for police shootings after a string of violent deaths has brought focus to the issue nationwide.
"We need reform. Asking local prosecutors to investigate the same local police with whom they work so closely is a conflict of interest," Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said in a statement Tuesday. "Even if they handle such investigations appropriately, there will continue to be a perception of bias."
Cohen's comments come the day after the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Ohio boy who was shot by police last year while holding a toy gun, accused Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty of "abusing and manipulating the grand jury process."
McGinty announced on Monday that the officers involved wouldn't face charges after a grand jury decided against indicting them.
Cohen and Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) introduced legislation earlier this year that would limit federal funding to law enforcement if they don't use an independent prosector for cases involving the use of deadly force by a police officer.
It would also limit funding if officers don't receive training on "sensitivity" each year, including mental health and ethnic and racial bias.
The legislation has gained momentum this month, getting endorsed by the Chicago Tribune editorial board.
Cohen added that the shooting in Cleveland and a separate shooting in Chicago underscore cases that "need independent prosecutors, and that’s why we are seeing growing support for our bill.”
Officer Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who fired 16 rounds at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald last year, pleaded not guilty to murder charges on Tuesday.
While Cohen's legislation has been endorsed by the NAACP, it's gotten pushback from the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO).
William Johnson, NAPO's executive director, wrote in a letter to Cohen earlier this year that the organization had concerns that under the proposal independent prosecutors would face "a great deal of pressure" to justify their work.
"There is a risk that decisions to prosecute would be made based on politics, not on the law and admissible evidence," Johnson added in the letter. "NAPO is concerned that an officer would be indicted, even if he/she did nothing wrong."
Monday's announcement is the latest in a series of high-profile decisions involving the death of African-Americans where grand juries have declined to indict police officers.