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Watkins refers killing to feds

WARREN — Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins has turned over the 1,600 pages of investigatory materials related to the Matthew Burroughs officer-involved-shooting-death case to the U.S. Justice Department.

Watkins said this is the first time he has referred an officer-involved shooting case to the Justice Department, but he did so this time because it involved a minority member of the community and a car was used.

“I believe an independent review by the U.S. Justice Department is appropriate,” Watkins said.

Watkins released a 35-page report last week saying his office presented the Jan. 2 shooting death of Burroughs, 35, to a Trumbull County grand jury, which refused to indict the Niles police officers involved. Niles police shot and killed Burroughs in front of Burroughs’ apartment.

Burroughs was unarmed, but police officers said they feared Burroughs would use his car as a weapon against officer Chris Mannella, who fired the fatal shots.

Watkins said he discussed having a Justice Department review with David Toepfer, assistant U.S. attorney in the Youngstown office, in late August and followed up by providing the materials this week.

Watkins said Toepfer told him this week the materials were referred to the Justice Department, and the office is “reviewing it.”

A call to Toepfer and multiple calls and an email to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland on Friday were not returned.

Annette McCoy, president of the Trumbull County chapter of the NAACP, asked in January for an independent review of the shooting. She said Friday that having the Justice Department review would be positive if it leads to recommendations for police officers to receive additional training or policy changes.

McCoy also issued a press release on Friday, saying the NAACP and two other community organizations “send our most heartfelt message of condolence and support to the families and friends of the late Matthew Burroughs.

“We as a community must unite to support what is needed to heal and develop strategies to prevent another loss. Law enforcement was designed to protect those who they are sworn to serve.”

The release added that she; Pastor Joseph Walker Jr., president of the Trumbull County Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance; Tom Conley, president CEO of the Greater Warren-Youngstown Urban League; and Andre Washington, president of the Youngstown chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute urge Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz to meet with the groups.

“As community leaders, we challenge … Mientkiewicz … and the city officials of Niles to bridge the gap between the communities of color and the underserved in the Valley,” the statement said.

Conley said Friday the U.S. Justice Department has typically monitored officer involved shootings in the past but doesn’t know if that is still its policy. He added, “For Dennis Watkins to refer it to the Justice Department is a positive step for transparency.”

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