Wash. lawmakers poised to alter, pass compromise to police deadly force initiative

A coalition of police groups and unions opposed the initiative and compromise bill, but now will be part of the effort to modify I-940, Seattle police Officer Mike Solan said


By Joseph O'Sullivan and Steve Miletich
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — With the passage of the police deadly force initiative, state lawmakers stood poised Wednesday to join supporters and opponents of the measure in moving to enact a compromise bill agreeable to all of them.

Voters gave strong support in Tuesday’s election to Initiative 940, which removes language from state law that made it almost impossible to prosecute law-enforcement officers believed to have misused deadly force. It also requires statewide training of police in de-escalation techniques and dealing with people in crisis.

Legislators passed a compromise bill earlier this year, with the support of I-940 proponents and some law-enforcement organizations that had objected to some of the initiative’s wording. But the state Supreme Court ruled that the initiative must be placed on the ballot before it could be altered.

A trio of key lawmakers said Wednesday they expect the compromise measure, House Bill 3003, to go forward in the 2019 legislative session

Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, the chair of the House Public Safety Committee, said two law-enforcement organizations – the Fraternal Order of Police and Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs – have reaffirmed to him their support for the compromise.

Both organizations had engaged in what they called respectful opposition to the ballot measure, while pledging to support the bill whatever the election’s outcome.

Goodman has scheduled a meeting next week with all the stakeholders, he said, to “confirm that our intention is to enact the agreement that we forged.”

“And so far I’ve heard nothing to the contrary,” added Goodman.

In a statement Wednesday, Monisha Harrell, co-chair of De-Escalate Washington, the group that backed I-940, said, “We supported House Bill 3003 because the end result ensured all of the commonsense reforms in Initiative 940 and did no harm to our proposal, and we maintain support of that work we did in good faith with our partners.”

Harrell added: “We will continue to support passing the exact content of House Bill 3003 next session. It’s important to recognize that last night Washington voters said ‘yes’ to the policy in 940 — everyone should be clear of that, and stand by its goal. We look forward to continuing the work we started with our partners in law enforcement to build bridges between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and implementing the policy that voters decisively approved.”

The major modification would eliminate I-940’s two-part test to determine if an officer acted in good faith when using deadly force. One part requires proof that a reasonable officer would have used deadly force in the same circumstances, while the other asks if the officer “sincerely and in good faith believed that the use of deadly force was warranted in the circumstance.”

The compromise bill simplified the standard, asking prosecutors only to examine whether a reasonable officer would have deemed deadly force necessary to prevent death or serious physical harm to police or others if placed in the same situation.

Some worried that the initiative campaign might get acrimonious, causing the agreement to fall apart, according to Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, and chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. But that didn’t happen, said Pedersen, “And what I’ve heard consistently from both sides, is that they remained committed to the compromise.”

Goodman and Pedersen both said they hope to quickly move the compromise through the Legislature once lawmakers return to Olympia in January.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and ranking Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he’d still like to see some tweaks to the compromise, if possible. Padden said he remained concerned about the prospect of politically-motivated prosecutions of officers.

Ultimately, Padden still favored the compromise, he said, and “hopefully we will pass something early in the session.”

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said Wednesday he hopes lawmakers will approve the bill, which like the initiative strips away a 32-year-old law requiring prosecutors to prove that a police officer acted with malice, or evil intent, in prosecuting them for a crime such as manslaughter.

He said the job for prosecutors in judging criminal liability will be to establish what is unreasonable, and that they will have to look to expert witnesses to help determine whether an officer acted in conformity with their training and policy.

“Malice cut short our analysis,” he said.

He noted Washington still has a self-defense law for officers, and any citizen, that allows them to make a mistake, as long it was reasonable. It includes a subjective standard — standing in the “shoes of the actor” — to judge what the person believed, he said.

A coalition of police groups and unions opposed the initiative and compromise bill, but now will be part of the effort to modify I-940, Seattle police Officer Mike Solan said Wednesday.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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