The fight over Initiative 940 was shaping up to be a brutal one.
Under current law, prosecutors can only bring charges against police officers in deadly force cases if they operated with “malicious intent.” This requirement makes it nearly impossible to bring charges in these cases, so activists with De-Escalate Washington promoted I-940, a measure to lower the standard.
The gap between activists and cops seemed insurmountable. The rhetoric was heating up. But legislators in Olympia managed to work out a compromise.
“What we’ve done is revised the standard to say that use of deadly force is justified unless a reasonable officer wouldn’t have done that under the circumstances,” Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) told KTTH’s Jason Rantz. “It’s a much more fair standard now.”
Work in Olympia on this kind of legislation began back in 2014 after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. The issue drew even more attention after the shootings of Che Taylor and Charleena Lyles by Seattle police.
Goodman said he didn’t consider any specific cases when drafting the legislation, but it’s possible the change could’ve impacted those examples.
“The standard, we call it the justification standard, is that very first level of analysis for the prosecutor,” Goodman said. “Was it reasonable or not? Then you start to take a look at the individual officer and the individual circumstances of the case.”
The Legislature passed the measure to enact I-940 Thursday, March 8.
“If we hadn’t acted on the initiative it would’ve gone to the people,” Goodman explained. “That would’ve made it worse because then we would’ve had a really adversarial campaign and the relationship between the police and the community would’ve grown even more fraught.”
After passage, De-Escalate Washington put out a press release praising the move as “historic.” Local conservatives like Jason Rantz have described the initiative as “anti-cop,” but Goodman says law enforcement groups are satisfied with the compromise.
“The vast majority of law enforcement across the state is very supportive of the agreement that we’ve reached,” Goodman said. “There’s always going to be a few folks who are grumbling, but this is really a consensus agreement we’ve come forward with.”