When questions arise about how investigators handled a suspicious death case, or when they appear to have possibly caused the death themselves, they usually don't comment about what happened because the investigation is ongoing and it will take a very long time to solve.
It's a logical enough explanation in complicated cases, but it's is given so much, so steadfastly, by police and other government agencies that it's sometimes hard to tell where the genuine investigation ends and the delay tactics begin.
The most obvious recent example is the shooting death of an unarmed man in Ferguson, Missouri at the hands of a police officer. Despite growing public outrage and protests, the Ferguson police chief has refused to say how long the investigation will take or how many times victim Mike Brown was shot or, until yesterday, the name of the officer who killed him. The investigation is ongoing. "There is no timeline," the St. Louis County prosecutor just told the Times. Maybe the prosecutors are just unusually free-spirited and don't believe in timelines.
Similarly slow-moving investigations happen routinely in big cities around the country, including in and around Dallas. Here are some local suspicious death cases that also don't appear to be on a timeline, or at least not a very speedy one:
Brian Michael Hunter Brian Michael Hunter was 32 when he was found dead in a Dallas jail cell. He had been arrested for an unsafe lane change. This was back in October. Dallas Police promptly announced that they were investigating.
Now that nearly a year has passed, is the investigation complete, and are the results public? "For your request, I have been advised to have you submit an open records request for the information you are seeking," responded a DPD spokesman via email last week. I filed an open records request but haven't heard anything new.
Stan Wilson Stan Wilson was a Dallas firefighter who died after a building collapsed on him in May, 2013. Reporters investigated the case for months and found that multiple witnesses thought Wilson should never have been ordered to go back into the burning building where he eventually died. But Wilson's widow has yet to receive public, official word from the City of Dallas about what exactly happened leading up to his death.
She recently sent a letter to the City of Dallas asking for answers. The city responded to her last month that it can't release its findings detailing how Wilson died because of an ongoing "criminal investigation" related to the fire. It's been 14 months since Wilson died.
Arnav Dhawan In January, the Frisco Police Department held a press conference announcing that Pallavi Dhawan had killed her own son. She confessed to the murder, the police said. But it wasn't an outright I Killed My Son confession. It was actually just a head-nod. "Officers asked if she had killed the child, and Mrs. Dhawan nodded her head yes," Officer Brad Merritt told reporters at the time.
Since then, the family has vehemently denied that any such conversation took place. In sworn affidavits and interviews, Pallavi and her husband Sumeet described their son Arnav's health problems and denied that there was any foul play. More importantly, a coroner's report ruled that the boy most likely died of natural causes. A few months later, the Frisco PD tried to withhold the family car unless they agreed not to sue.
Now Pallavi would like to travel to India, her home country. She recently explained to WFAA that she wants to give her son a proper religious burial there. But she can't leave the country can't until the Frisco PD finishes its investigation and turns it over to the DA's office. When that will happen is anyone's guess.
The department told WFAA that the investigation isn't on a timeline. I got a similar response when I called up the Frisco PD's press office. "No, they don't have a date set, there's still just an ongoing investigation," Officer Chad LaPrelle said.
Clint Peterson In October 2013, the Duncanville Police Department put out a vague press release that made some creative use of the passive voice to explain how a 28-year-old man named Clint Peterson died: "Preliminary reports indicate that shots were fired during a foot chase," the release said. Translation: police fired shots at Peterson while he was running away, at least according to his sister, his girlfriend and her daughter ,who had called the cops on him and witnessed his death.
In March, a coroner's report said that Peterson died from a gunshot wound in the right side of his head, behind his ear. No weapons were recovered. After the new information came out, the Duncanville Police Chief said the case was still under an Internal Affairs and a criminal investigation. "Until both investigations have been completed and I know specifically what the facts are, I will not make assumptions on what occurred," Chief Robert Brown emailed us in March.
Now it's August, nearly 10 months since the shooting occurred. The Dallas County Sheriff's Department has completed the criminal investigation, Brown said, and the criminal case is in the Dallas District Attorney's office. When will it be presented to be a grand jury? That information isn't public, as all grand jury proceedings are secretive. "While all involved would like to see the criminal justice system move faster, we must allow the process to run its course," Brown added via email.
Juan May Arlington Police Department Sgt. Thedrick Andres was off-duty, on a party bus with a large group, when he and a fellow party-goer named Juan May started fighting, witnesses have told reporters. The fight escalated off the bus, ending with Andres shooting May and killing him. That happened on June 30, about six weeks ago.
"Thedrick said he was in fear of his life and acted in self-defense," Andres' attorney told the Star-Telegram. May's family countered that the shooting was unprovoked.
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The Arlington Police Department is investigating the off-duty shooting, but has already warned it will take awhile. "This will be a long process and we don't comment on pending investigations," Arlington Police Department's Lt. Chris Cook said via email last week.
Sarah Tibbetts Rebecca Tibbetts told reporters that she got a call from staff at the Irving City Jail on a night last October, asking her to bring insulin for Sarah, her diabetic daughter in police custody. Rebecca. who lives in California, explained there was no way she could make it n time. The next morning, Sarah died in her jail cell from a lack of insulin.
The case made some key progress last week, 10 months after Sarah Tibbetts' death: The Irving City Council unanimously agreed to pay $1.2 million to her family. The city also fired two jail supervisors.
Is Tibbetts' death the result of a more widespread problem at the jail? That's still unclear. The Dallas County District Attorney's Public Integrity Division's investigation is ongoing.