State panel wants law changed on police use of deadly force

OLYMPIA — A state law on the use of deadly force by police should be changed to make it less difficult to charge an officer with a crime after an incident in which they wrongfully kill someone.

That’s the major conclusion of a special task force which spent the past six months trying to chart a course for preventing violent and deadly encounters between law enforcement officers and citizens.

A narrow majority of members voted Monday to recommend rewriting the state law to deal with what they deemed a nearly insurmountable legal barrier to prosecuting officers involved in a wrongful death of another person.

Under the existing law, an officer can’t be held criminally liable for using deadly force if they acted “without malice” and with a “good faith” belief that their actions were justified.

Members of the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing panel want the terms “malice” and “good faith” removed and new language inserted that says an officer could not be charged if their action was reasonably necessary given the circumstances at the time.

That is among 15 recommendations the panel is sending to Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers for consideration in the 2017 session. A final report is due Thursday.

Other suggestions involve collecting data on use of force by officers, training in de-escalation techniques, outfitting police with less lethal weapons and recommendations for investigating deadly incidents.

Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, a co-chairman of the panel, didn’t back every recommendation but said in totality they offer a path toward reducing the potential for violent interactions between cops and others.

“It was an amazing day,” he said after Monday’s marathon 10-hour meeting.

State lawmakers set up the task force to review existing laws, practices and training programs regarding use of deadly force in Washington and other states, and to recommend ways to reduce the number of violent interactions.

Its 26 members represented a diverse assemblage of those most directly impacted by any eventual outcome. They included police officers and chiefs, prosecutors and public defenders, and leaders of cities and counties. Also on the panel were leaders of the NAACP, Latino Civic Alliance, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs and state commissions for Hispanics, Asian Pacific Americans and African Americans, to name a few.

Pearson served as a co-chairman with Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, who works for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, represented the House Republican Caucus.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe represented the state’s 39 elected prosecutors and Snohomish County Councilwoman Stephanie Wright served on behalf of the Washington Association of Counties.

The panel met four times. During their final meeting, members approved 15 recommendations and rejected six others.

They want the state to collect more detailed data on use of deadly force incidents, including information on injuries suffered by officers and payouts as a result of legal actions.

They also want the state to help police departments buy less lethal weapons and provide adequate funding for community mental health services.

Pearson pushed through a recommendation to require that all cadets, as part of their training, gain experience patrolling a minority community alongside a veteran officer. This will give the cadet experience interacting with minorities and a chance to learn from seasoned officers, he said.

Cops from small towns “don’t know how to deal with inner cities,” he said. “Even if you don’t work there you need to know what it’s like and the concerns of those communities.”

The panel also recommended adopting a practice used in Snohomish County whereby officer-involved shootings are investigated by an external team of experts rather than by detectives from the department where the officer works.

Such a team of detectives in Snohomish County investigated the 2008 line-of-duty shooting by former Everett police officer Troy Meade.

That investigation led to criminal charges against Meade, who shot an intoxicated man from behind multiple times while the man was seated in his vehicle. A jury acquitted Meade in 2010.

The state task force rejected involving a special independent prosecutor in such cases.

Much of the conversation in the final meeting centered on what changes, if any, to make in the existing law on use of deadly force. While 39 states have some form of law dealing with police use of deadly force, Washington has the only statute containing the malice standard.

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, put forth the proposal approved by the group.

It replaces “malice” and “good faith” with language that officers would not be criminally liable if their use of deadly force was reasonably necessary “in light of all the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time” of the incident.

Roe and Kelly Harris, of the Association of Washington Cities, recommended axing malice and retaining the good faith standard. They suggested language clarifying that good faith is “whether a reasonable peace officer, relying upon the facts and circumstances known by the officer at the time of the incident, would have used deadly force.”

Those representing the law enforcement community recommended the law not be amended.

That position frustrated members of a coalition of community groups on the panel.

They responded sharply when Lt. Travis Adams, of the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, proposed making no change until the additional data is collected.

Karen Johnson, of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, praised Adams and other law enforcement officers on the panel for their service but expressed disappointment in their intransigence.

“Why is it not even up for conversation for you to join with us and raising the banner high to say, ‘Unjustified killings, not in our state’,” she said.

A short time later, Kerry Zieger, of the Seattle Police Department, expressed disappointment that police were being depicted as uncompromising by not agreeing to give up something in the law they consider important.

“Basically, it’s let law enforcement take it in the shorts. That’s not a compromise.” he said.

The panel wound up passing Frockt’s proposal with the minimum majority of 14 votes and voted down the other two.

On Wednesday, Roe expressed disappointment in the result but vowed to work to convince lawmakers the verbiage suggested by prosecutors presents the best option going forward.

“I think it would be a gigantic betrayal of law enforcement if the Legislature turns (the panel’s recommendation) into law,” Roe wrote in an email. “While I agree with removing the requirement to prove actual malice, good faith, adequately defined as I recommended, is an absolutely fair standard, and must remain.

“No good cop has one single thing to fear from removing the malice requirement, and just as importantly, no cop who acts very badly will be undeservedly protected by a well-defined good faith standard,” Roe wrote.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com Twitter: @dospueblos.

Deadly force law

Washington’s law on justifiable homicide or use of deadly force by law enforcement officers is spelled out in RCW 9A.16.040. It is the wording in subsection (3) which critics contend shields peace officers from prosecution if they wrongfully kill someone.

Here is the current language:

“A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable”

Here is the task force’s recommended revised language:

“A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force if a reasonable officer would have believed the use of deadly force was necessary in light of all the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time.”

Here is what county prosecutors and the Association of Washington Cities proposed and the panel rejected:

“A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section. For purposes of this chapter, good faith is whether a reasonable peace officer, relying upon the facts and circumstances known by the officer at the time of the incident, would have used deadly force.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

A house fire seriously injured two people Friday evening, June 14, in Edmonds, Washington. (Courtesy of South County Fire.)
1 killed, 1 with life-threatening injuries in Edmonds house fire

South County Fire crews pulled the man and woman from the burning home around 6 p.m. Friday, near 224th Street SW and 72nd Place W.

Melinda Grenier serves patrons at her coffee truck called Hay Girl Coffee during the third annual Arlington Pride event in Arlington, Washington on Sunday, June 2, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Hidden costs, delays crush hopeful food truck owners in Snohomish County

Melinda Grenier followed her dream to open Hay Girl Coffee. Thousands in fees later, it has cost her more than she bargained for.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

Lynnwood
New Jersey auto group purchases Lynnwood Lexus dealership land

Holman, which owns Lexus of Seattle in Lynnwood, bought property on which the dealership resides.

Marvin Arellano (Photo provided)
Family: ‘Manic episode’ preceded trooper shooting man on I-5 near Everett

“It’s very, very unfortunate how he was portrayed in his final moments,” Gilbert Arellano said. “He was just such a good person.”

Two visitors comb the beach at Kayak Point Regional County Park on Friday, June 14, 2024, in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Kayak Point reopens ahead of schedule

The county’s most popular park reopened Friday.

Grauates throw their caps in the air at the end of Arlington High School graduation at Angel of the Winds Arena on Thursday, June 13, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘So worth it’: Snohomish County graduates step into their futures

Alyssa Acosta, who is Harvard-bound, was one of thousands to walk the stage at Angel of the Winds Arena this month to get high school diplomas.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.