Gov. Inslee signs police accountability package, some cops have lingering concern

May 18, 2021, 4:45 PM | Updated: May 19, 2021, 10:43 am
police accountability...
Gov. Inslee signs an historic package of police accountability bills into law on Tuesday. (Office of the Governor)
(Office of the Governor)

Exactly one week before the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, Governor Inslee signed on Tuesday a large package of police accountability bills into law.

Lawmakers disappointed by Gov. Inslee’s veto pen

The dozen or so bills the Legislature passed this session are policies a handful of lawmakers spent the interim working on last year, along with families of those killed by police locally.

The proposals became a top priority for the Legislature after the world watched Floyd’s death. Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes while he pleaded for his life and uttered the words, “I can’t breathe.”

Tuesday’s bill signings were held in Tacoma, where just weeks before Floyd’s death, Manuel Ellis was killed while being restrained by Tacoma Police, also uttering the words, “I can’t breathe.” As one of the most watched cases in our region, Ellis’ case is in the hands of state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who has promised a decision on potential prosecution of involved officers by May 27.

“This is an important day for so many people and I am grateful that I get to stand here with you, as the mayor of Tacoma, to be here for the police accountability bill signing,” said Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards before introducing Inslee.

Woodards has led calls for accountability in Ellis’ death.

Gov. Inslee applauded lawmakers for their work getting this package through the Legislature to his desk.

“We are in the City of Destiny, and I take that seriously,” he said.

“I believe it is our destiny in the state of Washington and the Tacoma community to always lead in the cause of advancing justice. And today, with the bills I will be signing, Washington state is creating a comprehensive system of improving accountability and transparency in law enforcement,” Inslee said. “Isn’t it great that as of noon today, we will have the best, most comprehensive, most transparent, most effective police accountability laws in the United States?”

The bills were seen as building on the foundation Initiative 940 had created. One big shortfall of I-940 is the lack of implementation of the true independent investigation. Rep. Debra Entenman’s HB 1267 resolves that issue.

“We are relieved to know that it will not be police investigating police. We know that there is a pathway for cases that were pre-940. And the cases post-940 will be reopened,” explained Katrina Johnson, whose cousin, Charleena Lyles, was shot and killed by Seattle Police responding to her 911 call about a burglary in 2017.

“Impacted families take a bow, and know that your loved ones’ death was not in vain,” Johnson told the crowd. “Today, we stand united in strength and bonded together forever in pain and blood. We celebrate on this bill signing day, and tomorrow it’s back to work on implementation.”

Another voice key to the policy changes was Donita Briscoe, who spoke prior to the bill signing about HB 1310.

“My brother Che Taylor was killed in February of 2016. No one has been prosecuted for his death,” Briscoe said.

“The officers who killed him made no effort to use anything but deadly force. I helped to draft and introduced House Bill 1310 and I’m very proud that this bill is being signed by Governor Inslee. It requires that a police officer must use de-escalation tactics before resorting to use of physical force, and it requires that officers must avoid creating situations that require force. It describes what de-escalation is and addressing behavior we saw in my brother’s death,” Briscoe explained.

In addition to requiring truly independent investigations, bills passed require the State Auditor to review those investigations to ensure the specific requirements were met, an oversight measure that was lacking in I-940.

Other bills signed by Inslee on Tuesday require police agencies to report behavior that puts an officer’s credibility into question and lands them on what’s known as a Brady List. The bill is sponsored by long-time former cop turned State Rep. John Lovick.

“It basically says that if an officer is involved in a level of misconduct that you develop a list and he or she goes on that list if it impacts their credibility. That list is developed (and maintained by prosecutors) so that if he or she has to testify in court, or if he or she applies for another agency he or she is on that list,” Lovick said.

“It doesn’t mean that they won’t get hired if they try and apply at another agency. It doesn’t mean that the person won’t be believed in court. The list is there so the prosecuting attorney will inform the defense attorney that this person has had some credibility issues,” Lovick added, explaining that it is also about ensuring other departments are aware of an officer’s credibility issues or potential misconduct, which has not always been the case when a cop takes a lateral move.

The signing of this package marked a pause on exhaustive efforts of a handful of lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. Jesse Johnson, who as a member of the Black Caucus from Federal Way has seen some of these issues play out in real life. But Johnson’s priorities had been about educational equality – until May 25, 2020.

“We watched for over nine minutes as the life of George Floyd literally left before our eyes. We watched the legal proceedings of the case of Breonna Taylor that did not give justice. We unfortunately saw in our own backyard the death of Manny Ellis,” Johnson said.

“Here in our streets we saw a solidarity, a tremendous solidarity of people coming together to demand change, and for the first time, not only Black and brown communities of color but the majority of communities demanded change from us as legislators, and I’m proud to say we delivered on both accountability, which is retroactive, and justice, which is proactive, and finally the course of action that we have set for all bills moving forward,” Johnson told the crowd, praising the commitment of families who lost loves ones to police use of force who repeatedly shared their stories in virtual calls as these bills came up for committee hearings.

Johnson sponsored several key bills included in the package, including one that bans choke holds, neck restraints, and no knock warrants, another that requires officers only use deadly force as a last resort and that they de-escalate, and a third that’s meant to protect juveniles who interact with police.

For other lawmakers who had long worked in this space, it has been an eye-opening year.

“It was almost exactly a year ago that George Floyd senselessly and needlessly lost his life with his face on the pavement, spurring national demonstrations in our streets, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” said House Public Safety Committee Chair Roger Goodman, who was key to negotiations that finally got I-940 on the books, and sponsored several bills in this effort.

“My first thought was, well, we’re different here in Washington. We achieved a historic agreement between law enforcement and the community in enacting Initiative 940 restricting the use of deadly force. But then I realized there’s so much unfinished work on the table,” he explained.

It was a similar wake up call for Democratic Senator Jaime Pedersen, who championed what insiders called the de-certification bill — SB 5051 – the teeth of the accountability package, Pedersen said earlier this year.

On Tuesday, he had this to offer.

“Too many of us, myself included, stood by and did nothing, and tolerated a system infused with racism, because it was comfortable and easy. And that’s a hard thing to acknowledge that there’s been so much pain for so long that we have ignored. So I’m deeply sorry. But once those cries finally pierced our thick skulls, we made a commitment that we were going to act and do our best to change this world, to change our state,” Pedersen said.

This will not be the end of the collaborative work lawmakers, families, and some in law enforcement do on these issues. In the 2022 session, the families already have said they expect to see bills to require independent prosecutions of deadly use of force cases and create a civil cause of action for accountability in Civil Rights Violations and excessive force cases.

In response to the bills signed Tuesday, the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance released the following statement:

These bills mark a potential sea change in how police in Washington interact with people in communities they’re hired to serve — especially Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. No more choking. No more deadly force except as a last resort. Deadly force will be independently investigated. Excessive force by one cop must be stopped by another, and its cause for decertification.

These and other measures are the result of residents throughout the state demanding an end to abuse at the hands of law enforcement and systems that should be there to protect us. Thousands upon thousands of people called, wrote, texted and testified.

But this is, for now, potential. The Governor’s signature today makes these bills into laws. These laws must now be enforced. That’s up to police and prosecutors, judges and juries, administrators and adjudicators. And it’s up to us.

The people of Washington got these bills passed, and the people of Washington stand vigilant to ensure they’re carried out.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs released a statement following the 2021 Legislative session, available here.

Marco Monteblanco, president of the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, spoke with KIRO 7 TV regarding the changes to law enforcement. Watch the interview here.

Republican State Rep. Brad Klippert has been a cop for nearly 30 years, working as a deputy sheriff in Pierce and Benton counties, and as a school resource officer, and still has concerns about the changes, saying the following:

What saddens me the most concerning these ‘Police Reforms’ is the negative effects the majority of them will have on public safety!

I am very thankful for our law enforcement officers in Washington State and the tremendous public service you offer to our communities every day! It’s because of you and the great veterans and service members of the USA that we the citizens of the United States of America can live under the banner of freedom and safety in this Land of the FREE and HOME of the BRAVE!

The bills passed include:

HB 1054 – limits on police tactics

HB 1088 – Requiring police agencies to report Brady listed officers with credibility issues to prosecutors for court and employment purposes

HB 1089 – Relating to compliance audits of requirements relating to peace officers and law enforcement agencies

HB 1140 – Relating to juvenile access to attorneys when contacted by law enforcement

HB 1223 – Relating to the uniform electronic recordation of custodial interrogations act.

HB 1267 – Requiring truly independent investigations into deadly use of force cases

HB 1310 – Relating to permissible uses of force by law enforcement and correctional officers.

SB 5051 – Relating to state oversight and accountability of peace officers and corrections officers (decertification bill)

SB 5066 – Relating to a peace officer’s duty to intervene

SB 5259 – Relating to requiring reporting, collecting, and publishing information regarding law enforcement interactions with the communities they serve

SB 5263 – Relating to defenses in personal injury and wrongful death actions where the person injured or killed was committing a felony

SB 5353 – Relating to creating a partnership model that facilitates community engagement with law enforcement

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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Gov. Inslee signs police accountability package, some cops have lingering concern