SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Springfield police department is investigating the murder of an unarmed man killed in the back yard of a home along the 1400-block of North Marion Ave. The investigation has left many in Springfield outraged, as the murder victim, Michael Ireland, 31, was shot and killed by an officer of that very police department.
A statement from officials last month said two sets of investigators — both of which are divisions of the Springfield Police Department — would look into the murder themselves.
“The Springfield Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Section is conducting a criminal investigation into the incident … the SPD Internal Affairs Unit will conduct an internal investigation of the officer’s actions.”
— Chief Paul Williams
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams admitted that the policy of the police investigating themselves has been met with skepticism, but in his five years in Springfield, he claims he has not received any complaints about the results of the investigations.
“We do things the right way,” Williams said. “We present the evidence that is there and let the chips fall where they may.”
The policy flies in the face of recommendations from the White House task force made earlier this week to allow external investigations of all police shootings. The recommendation is thought to “help improve the culture of police departments build greater trust and legitimacy with all segments of the population.”
Before Williams was hired, the Springfield Police Department had an agreement with the Missouri State Highway Patrol which would allow the highway patrol to take over an investigation. The agreement came into play once before, when Springfield City Councilman Nick Ibarra was investigated in 2011 for running down two people with his car in a road rage incident. Williams asked the Highway Patrol to look into the matter to “ensure an unbiased review of the facts as the investigation progresses.”
Williams says he never seriously considered taking advantage of the agreement for the murder investigation of Michael Ireland.
Williams justifies his position by claiming that, despite asking the Highway Patrol to take over other recent investigations, his department has the the most qualified investigators. Williams did not comment on the fact that past uses of the Highway Patrol did not involve incidents where officers in his employ shot and killed an unarmed man.
“We have the most expertise, in that area, in the entire region. It is hard for us to find an agency that we could turn this over to without looking to Kansas City or St. Louis.”
— Chief Paul Williams
Williams emphasized that Springfield police will not ultimately make the decision whether the shooting is considered by authorities to be justified. After his department investigates its own officers for killing the unarmed man, it will turn the evidence it assembles and collects over to the Greene County prosecutor’s office. Prosecuting attorney Dan Patterson will decide whether or not to file charges.
“When the ruling comes out there, that is what we go with,” Williams said. “Justified or not justified, that is what we go with.”
In a prepared press statement, police allege Ireland ran from officers when they arrived some time after 10 p.m. at a residence on West Division Street. Police say Officer Andrew Bath caught up with Ireland and, according to the prepared press statement, “at some point during the ensuing encounter, the officer shot the suspect one time in the chest and he died at the scene shortly afterward.”