With the help of the New York Times‘ legal guru, David McCraw, I have been using a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to assemble a massive public library of internal Federal Bureau of Investigation shooting incident reports dating back to 1993. We’ve just updated that library with about 700 pages of such reports generated from 2013 to 2015. I don’t see a general-interest news story in these documents, so I’m just putting them up; if someone sees something of note, please get in touch with me. The documents include:
- Shooting Incident Review Team (SIRT) reports: Under most circumstances, whenever an FBI agent fires his or her weapon outside of a shooting range, the bureau’s Inspections Division sends out a SIRT to investigate. It interviews witnesses and uses forensics to reconstruct what happened, and produces a report. The reports are thick binders of supporting material, but I FOIA’d out only the narrative summary portions.
- Shooting Incident Review Group (SIRG) reports: After the Inspections Division completes its findings, they go to a SIRG – a panel of high-level FBI and Justice Department officials – for review. The SIRG is looking for lessons learned and also assesses whether the shooting complied with the bureau’s policy on using lethal force, which permits agents to fire only if they have a reason to believe that their lives or the lives of others are in imminent danger. If the SIRG says the shooting complied with policy, that’s a “good shoot,” and if it did not comply with policy, that’s called a “bad shoot,” and an agent gets recommended for discipline, ranging from a censure letter in his or her file to being fired.
- Civil Rights Division (CRT) reports, etc: For more recent incidents, I have also been asking for additional documents where somebody was hit by a bullet or where at least one member of the SIRG voted to find a bad shoot, even if that member was outvoted. Most importantly, I am seeking reports by Main Justice’s Civil Rights Division about whether to recommend prosecuting an agent for violating a person’s civil rights — or, more realistically given the unbroken pattern, why they don’t think prosecution is justified. In the super-rare case where an agent is recommended for discipline, I’m also asking for documents related to that process, which can take a long time.
Unintentional shootings are, of course, always bad shoots. But it is extremely rare for the bureau to find intentional shootings to be bad shoots, especially in potentially fraught situations in which a bullet actually hit somebody. The FBI’s internal shooting review process, in its current form, dates back to 1993, when then-FBI director Louis J. Freeh overhauled it. Before then, the credibility of the process had been called into question because the bureau had deemed justified a shot by a FBI sniper that killed the wife of a white supremacist during the 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, but then Main Justice took a second look and said it was improper. Still, in the 20 years since that overhaul, the process has deemed exactly one shot fired by an FBI agent that hit someone to be a bad shoot – a 2012 incident in Queens.
Here is some coverage:
- Charlie Savage, “F.B.I. Says Killing Man Was Justified, but Not Shooting His Tire,” New York Times, April 23, 2016
- Charlie Savage, “In Rare Case, F.B.I. Tries to Fire Agent Who Shot Queens Suspect,” New York Times, Aug. 22, 2015
- Charlie Savage and Michael Schmidt, “The F.B.I. Deemed Agents Faultless in 150 Shootings,”New York Times, June 19, 2013