Details of the fatal shooting of Jacob McClure of Jefferson by a Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputy in December might be made public sooner than normal under a new system the Maine Attorney General’s Office has put in place to manage a backlog of investigations.

In a statement provided to The Free Press, Attorney General Aaron Frey said he inherited the problem, which he blamed on a system of reviewing investigations in chronological order:

“Under this practice, when I took office in January 2019, the first case presented for my consideration involved an incident that occurred on June 7, 2017.”

The most recent resolved investigation, according to the AG’s police shooting archive, involved an incident from May 14, 2018.

Frey acknowledged the impacts of long turnaround times, including delays in access to complete public inspection, closure for family members and decisions for law enforcement involved in the incident. Additionally, he said, it diminishes the opportunity for meaningful review by the Deadly Force Review Panel.

“Mindful of these concerns,” he said, his office is now using a three-track system. Chronological review will continue as it has. A second track will begin with the first case of 2020, and a third track will include all new cases, starting with McClure’s shooting on December 18, 2020.

AG’s Office spokesman Marc Malon wrote in an email: “The impact of this revised approach will have the effect of ensuring the McClure [case] is fully addressed without being impacted by the backlog.”

Frey did not say how dividing investigations into multiple tracks will speed the process, and Malon did not immediately reply to a request for clarification.

Frey, in his statement, cautioned that, under the new system, “the length of time it takes to publicly render a decision should in no way be construed as a comment on whether the use of force was justified or not.”

Maine has never found a police officer to be unjustified in killing someone.

When a police officer uses deadly force, the Attorney General’s Office steps in immediately and begins an investigation that effectively shields any evidence, including materials that would otherwise be public records, from public view. Investigators conduct interviews, collect physical evidence and review work done by other agencies, including the Medical Examiner’s Office and Maine State Police Crime Lab. The results of the investigation are then reviewed for completeness by the chief of the investigation division and presented to the chief of the criminal division and the attorney general for legal analysis and a decision, which is delivered to the police department involved in the use of deadly force and made public.

A review by The Free Press of the police shootings archive found that the amount of time between the incident and the resolution of the investigation has grown significantly over the last two decades.

The AG’s Office spent an average of 50 days investigating police shootings from 2006. By 2017, the last full year of completed investigations and an unusually violent one, in which there were 12 police shootings, investigators were spending an average of 524 days to resolve each case.

Splitting the same time period in half, the average length of investigations from 2006 to 2011 was 117 days. From 2012 to 2017, it had grown to 265 days.