I am one of the two internal affairs investigators at the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office. I have been in this position for almost one year. Through my experience and roughly two dozen cases that I have investigated, I do not believe there should be representation during the compelled interviews.
I believe employees should be able to provide an uncoached, unfiltered, honest, and complete statement during a compelled interview. To obtain a true and unbiased statement from the employee, that statement should come from that employee alone. However, that’s not to say that employees should be blindsided during an administrative investigation either. I think a thorough understanding of the process of an administrative investigation should be a requirement for every employee, this also includes the meaning of a compelled statement.
Often an employee only gets to learn or be taught about the administrative investigation process when they are already the subject of the case, sometimes well into the investigation. When the employee finally makes it to the interview room, they are often tensed, worried, or at the very least, uncomfortable. This method of walking into an unknown interview could also be counterproductive. The investigator should assist in educating the interviewee about the process. It is also important to answer certain common questions most interviewees might have, such as, “Is this criminal? Would I be doing jail time? Am I getting charged?” These were some of the few questions that I had to explain to some of my interviewees in the past. That is why I think some elements of the IA investigation should be a training requirement for the whole agency.
For example, with the use of force interviews, I think the individual employees should be allowed to review any body-worn camera footage or surveillance footage that was available to the investigator. This review process should be conducted prior to being interviewed by the IA investigator. I have conducted interviews in the past where the interviewee did not recall certain details and I had to provide the surveillance footage during the interview. This helped the interviewees to regain a better recollection of the incident, thus they were able to provide a more thorough and complete statement.
If an employee is being truthful, then being compelled to give their statement should not be an issue. Considering there is ample time given to the employee after an incident, representation should not be necessary for an accurate statement. Of course, if the employee feels inadequately equipped or underprepared for the interview, every investigation should include an appeal process. The appeal process stage would enable the employee to present any evidence that they feel lacking during the initial interview.
I think adequate training could take place for representation during the administrative investigation interview. If an employee would like to seek outside representation after the interview and return to provide any additional statements, then this should be allowed as well. While this might present two different narratives for the employee, the original statement would always be available. This could also give insights into the differences between the statements. For the above reasons, I do not think representation is necessary.