Deputy faults state law after woman stabs social worker near Bothell

Police say a recent state law stops them from using force to take people to psychiatric hospitals. A change could be coming.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Bothell in Snohomish and King counties, Washington. 220118

BOTHELL — Police say a woman stabbed a mental health professional near Bothell Friday night as authorities tried to involuntarily commit her — an example, a deputy argued in his official report, of a weakness in recent police reforms.

Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies and a social worker tried to get the woman, who lives with mental illness, to accept a judge’s order sending her to a psychiatric hospital, according to the police report. But she repeatedly refused.

As officers stood feet away, the woman, 20, tried to stab the mental health professional in the neck, catching him in the right shoulder, police wrote. The blade broke through his clothes but not his skin.

In the police report, a deputy said they were constrained by a recent state law on police use of force in their attempts to get her committed.

“This case should be reviewed at a higher level due to the severity of the crime. This all could have been prevented if law enforcement was able to use force on the mentally ill to get them to a mental health facility for treatment,” deputy Raymond Duran wrote. “Due to law enforcement being unable to effectively due our job because of the new laws enacted by Washington State Legislation, it took a victim getting stabbed to be able to detain the arrestee.”

Sheriff Adam Fortney and some other local leaders have sounded the alarm on the law, House Bill 1310, saying it restricts officers’ ability to use force to transport people in a mental health crisis to a hospital.

The legislation, passed by the Legislature on a party-line vote, went into effect in late July 2021. Part of a suite of reforms, it aimed to reduce police brutality by establishing a state standard for permissible use of force and requiring law enforcement officers to use “de-escalation tactics” before getting physical with someone.

The law limits the use of physical force by police officers to specific circumstances, such as when there’s probable cause to make an arrest, to prevent an escape, or to protect themselves or others against “imminent threat of bodily injury.”

Changes to that measure are in the works in Olympia. House Bill 1735 would allow police to use physical force to provide assistance or transportation in a mental health crisis. It passed the state House late last month on a 90-5 vote. The legislation is scheduled for a Tuesday morning hearing in the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

If signed into law, it would go into effect immediately.

The Bothell woman’s mother told sheriff’s deputies she’d been trying to get her daughter to see a mental health professional for about a year, according to a police report. Duran told her they’d only be able to detain the woman if she posed an “imminent threat to herself and others.” The mother reportedly didn’t like this.

The deputy told the social worker that police “were only there to make sure (the social worker) was safe and if things escalated, we were to get him out of there safely,” Duran wrote in the police report.

The mental health professional knocked on the woman’s door for about 10 minutes. She didn’t respond. Duran reportedly announced himself, too, saying he was there to ensure she was OK. He encouraged her to open the door to show them she was alive.

She opened the door with a “catatonic” look on her face, the deputy wrote in his report. The Bothell woman wouldn’t respond to questions and refused services.

After about 30 minutes, Duran told the social worker there was nothing they could do to help get her to the hospital.

As they were getting ready to leave, the woman told them to wait, according to police.

“Come back,” she reportedly said.

She had a lighter and a cigarette in her hand. Duran asked if she wanted to come outside and smoke. As she stepped outside, her attention reportedly shifted to the mental health professional. She wouldn’t stop staring at him, the deputy wrote.

The woman walked toward the social worker and raised a knife in her right hand. She tried to stab him with the 5-inch blade.

Duran reported he reached for his service firearm and pulled it halfway out of the holster before hitting her in the arm with his flashlight. He struck her again because she was still holding the knife. The deputy said he took her to the ground, forcing her forehead into the concrete.

On the ride to jail, she reportedly asked Duran if she had stabbed anyone in the neck.

The Bothell woman was arrested for investigation of first-degree assault. She was in the Snohomish County Jail on Monday with bail set at $50,000.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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