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'Cottage Industry of Exoneration' Defends Accused Police Officers

A small but influential cadre of scientists, lawyers, physicians and other police experts is almost always used to absolve officers of blame for deaths, the New York Times reports, citing a review of hundreds of research papers, more than 25,000 pages of court documents, and interviews with nearly three dozen people with knowledge of the deaths or the experts' research. Their views infuriate prosecutors, plaintiff lawyers, medical experts and relatives of the dead, who accuse them of slanting science, ignoring inconvenient facts and emboldening police officers to act aggressively. One researcher suggested that police officers involved in deaths are often unfairly blamed, like parents of babies who die of sudden infant death syndrome. The experts deal with law-enforcement-friendly companies that train police officers, write police policies and lend authority to studies rebutting concerns about police use of force.

Together they form what the Times calls "a cottage industry of exoneration." The experts have collected millions of dollars, much of it in fees that are largely paid by taxpayers, who cover the costs of police training and policies and the legal bills of accused officers. Many of the experts have ties to Axon, maker of the Taser. An Axon lawyer was a sponsor of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, a commercial undertaking among the police-friendly entities. The newspaper identified more than 100 instances of in-custody deaths or life-threatening injuries over 15 years in which experts in the network were hired to defend the police. About two-thirds of the cases were settled out of court; of the 28 decided by judges or juries, 16 had outcomes favoring the police. The individuals and businesses have offered instruction to thousands of police officers and medical examiners, whose cause-of-death rulings often help determine legal culpability. Lexipol, a Texas-based business whose webinars and publications have included experts from the network, says it helped write policy manuals for 6,300 police departments, sometimes suggesting standards for officers’ conduct that reduce legal liability. Some experts criticized research and medical opinions that found that police techniques might cause or contribute to deaths, suggesting these were flawed.

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