Report probes po­lice con­duct af­ter mas­sacre

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION - By Dave Collins Dave Collins is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

HART­FORD, Conn. — Af­ter the 2012 school mas­sacre in New­town, po­lice of­fi­cials not in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and “dig­ni­taries” were al­lowed into the build­ing and po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nated the crime scene by step­ping on bul­let cas­ings and glass shards that had yet to be pro­cessed as ev­i­dence, ac­cord­ing to a report state po­lice re­leased on their re­sponse to the mass shoot­ing.

The long-awaited report, re­leased Fri­day, con­cludes state po­lice han­dled the re­sponse ef­fec­tively, but it rec­om­mends im­prove­ments to pro­tect­ing crime scene in­tegrity, deal­ing with vic­tims’ fam­i­lies and other is­sues. A 2013 report on the re­sponse by New­town po­lice said that depart­ment re­sponded rapidly and fol­lowed pol­icy.

Gun­man Adam Lanza killed his mother at their New­town home be­fore shoot­ing his way into Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and killing 20 first-graders, six ed­u­ca­tors and him­self. In­ves­ti­ga­tors never found a clear mo­tive but said Lanza suf­fered men­tal health prob­lems and was ob­sessed with mass shoot­ings.

“The un­prece­dented na­ture of this in­ci­dent posed nu­mer­ous chal­lenges,” the state po­lice report says. “The unique dy­nam­ics of this tragedy tasked the agency’s re­sources and tested the ca­pac­ity and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of in­di­vid­u­als and units alike . ... Had it not been for the heroic ac­tions of the teach­ers, school staff and the re­sponse force, the num­ber of vic­tims could have been higher.”

One rec­om­men­da­tion is to limit crime scene ac­cess to au­tho­rized per­son­nel. The report says “un­in­volved” state po­lice com­mand staff, mem­bers of out­side agen­cies and “dig­ni­taries” were al­lowed into the school in the hours and days af­ter the shoot­ing, po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nat­ing the crime scene and “un­nec­es­sar­ily ex­pos­ing per­son­nel to the dis­turb­ing scene.”

“Rel­e­vant ev­i­dence was stepped on, in­clud­ing bul­let cas­ings and glass shards, which had yet to be pro­cessed and prop­erly doc­u­mented,” the report says.

The report also rec­om­mends train­ing and de­vel­op­ing a check­list for no­ti­fy­ing fam­i­lies of the deaths of their loved ones. In New­town, troop­ers no­ti­fied the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims “pro­fes­sion­ally and with com­pas­sion,” but some mis­takes were made, the report says. In one case, a trooper did not know the cor­rect re­la­tion­ship be­tween a vic­tim and the fam­ily mem­ber he was no­ti­fy­ing, it says.

Es­tab­lish­ment of a statewide fam­ily li­ai­son pro­gram also is rec­om­mended. Af­ter the school shoot­ing, fam­ily li­ai­son of­fi­cers were as­signed to each vic­tim’s fam­ily and were crit­i­cally im­por­tant to co­or­di­nat­ing re­sources to the fam­i­lies, the report says.

Michele Gay, whose daugh­ter, Josephine, was one of the 20 chil­dren killed, said she hopes state po­lice learn from both what they did well and what they were not pre­pared to han­dle in the af­ter­math of the tragedy.

She said her fam­ily and oth­ers ap­pre­ci­ated be­ing as­signed a trooper to act as a li­ai­son who kept them in­formed and re­layed their needs to au­thor­i­ties. But, she said, it was clear there were no pro­to­cols or pro­ce­dures in place for han­dling this type of sit­u­a­tion.

“We were very for­tu­nate that they were such prin­ci­pled, trust­wor­thy and loyal in­di­vid­u­als that we were work­ing with at the state po­lice,” she said. “But I feel a lot of them look back and wish they didn’t have to be mak­ing it up as they were go­ing along, that they had more men­tal health sup­port in terms of how to com­mu­ni­cate with fam­i­lies and deal with land mines that they might en­counter.”

Gay said it was “heart­break­ing” to hear about prob­lems with the crime scene ac­cess, in­clud­ing the bul­let cas­ings be­ing stepped on.

“Those things have to be part of plan­ning ahead of time, so it’s not even a ques­tion or de­ci­sion to make in the mid­dle of chaos,” she said.

A state po­lice spokes­woman said many of the rec­om­men­da­tions al­ready have been im­ple­mented or are be­ing im­ple­mented.

Julio Cortez / As­so­ci­ated Press 2012

Au­thor­i­ties gather out­side Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, af­ter the mass shoot­ing attack. Gun­man Adam Lanza killed his mother, 20 first-graders, six ed­u­ca­tors and him­self.

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