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Editorial: Keep the wheels of justice turning

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An impasse between the Pierce County district attorney and the River Falls police over a late-night, downtown disturbance that left a patrol officer injured shouldn't be allowed to spill over. There's no reason for other important cases that routinely pass between the two public entities to stall.

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City of River Fall police send their more serious cases of battery, burglary, domestic abuse, theft and repeat drunken driving offenses to be prosecuted by the district attorney as felonies or misdemeanors in Pierce County Circuit Court. (Fewer River Falls cases occur in St. Croix County, and those are sent to that county's district attorney.)

District attorneys decide whether and what to charge, based on evidence provided by police. In the above-mentioned case, District Attorney John O'Boyle has refused to press charges because he questions police procedures and thus the legality of evidence presented to him.

River Falls Police Chief Roger Leque said he was "shocked" by the district attorney's response. Leque and the city's attorney believe there is legally obtained, overwhelming evidence to prosecute. They've asked Pierce County Judge Joe Boles to intervene and for his court to move ahead with criminal felony charges against the UW-River Falls student suspect.

Boles convinced O'Boyle to take another look at the case and make a final decision on whether to charge or not. Otherwise, Boles may step in and make a ruling.

Regardless of the outcome, what ultimately counts is how other cases are handled. O'Boyle, who lost an August primary, will end his 20 years of service as the Pierce County district attorney at the end of 2012. That means, in a sense, he has no accountability left to county voters.

We believe, and would certainly expect, that O'Boyle will carry on his prosecutorial duties, including his contacts with River Falls police, with professionalism and without delay.

River Falls police, who have said they feel disrespected, even insulted, by the tone and criticism in some of O'Boyle's memos to them, will have to buck up and keep sending cases to the district attorney as well as receiving and acting on his feedback.

Neither side may like the current situation, but the public good demands that both make the best of the next few months for the sake of well-run law enforcement that serves the city of River Falls and Pierce County.

Online Poll: Legal limbo, taking sides

The Journal's online poll question this week asked: If you've read about the dispute between the River Falls police and the Pierce County DA about whether to charge a UWRF student for a felony during an incident that injured a police officer, whom do you agree with?

Early results: Police, 72.7%; District Attorney, 27.3%; Neither, so let Pierce Co. judge decide, 0%.

Add your voice by going to River Falls Journal

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