Could King County police be cross-deputized by feds to prosecute rioters?

Sep 4, 2020, 5:32 PM
Downtown Seattle protests, michael bumpus, rioters...
Downtown Seattle during weekend protests. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Recently, Oregon police were being crossed-deputized by the feds to prosecute rioters, which the local prosecutor wouldn’t prosecute. Former State Attorney General Rob McKenna joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss the ramifications for rioters, and if it could happen in Washington.

What’s the reason you would want to deputize the state police in a case like this?

“The federal government is probably frustrated that the Multnomah County district attorney says he won’t prosecute protesters for what he calls lesser offenses. He wants to focus on murders, and yet they have acts of arson. They have assaults on federal officers, trespassing on federal property. So by cross-deputizing the Oregon State Patrol, they have far more law enforcement officers there who could make arrests,” he said.

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“It’s important to understand that when you’re charged under federal criminal statutes, the penalties are often much more severe. So the combination of the U.S. attorney prosecuting — not declining to prosecute — with serious penalties for violating federal criminal laws means that the game is really changed for the protesters who, so far, in some cases have avoided arrest, or at least avoided prosecution.”

Could the same thing be done here, where the King County deputies are essentially federalized and they would pursue those prosecutions that the local authorities don’t want to do?

“Yes, assuming that the King County sheriff’s deputies cooperate, they want to be cross-deputized, and then they want to bring charges under federal law. They could turn the cases over to the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Brian Moran, who, like the U.S. Attorney in Oregon, is going to bring charges. That’s their job when they believe a referral has been made that is supported by evidence,” McKenna said.

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“So it really does change the equation for protesters to the extent they’re committing acts that violate federal law,” he added. “And as I said, not every act that involves property destruction or arson is going to violate a federal law. It depends on what property, and depends on who’s being assaulted and so forth.”

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Could King County police be cross-deputized by feds to prosecute rioters?