Inquests into law enforcement-involved deaths resume in King County

Mar 15, 2022, 8:10 AM | Updated: 12:27 pm
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A barrier stands outside of the Seattle Police Department's West Precinct in June 2020. (File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

After a delay of more than four years, inquests into deaths caused by police and law enforcement officers in King County are set to resume Tuesday morning.

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King County Executive Dow Constantine paused inquests in 2018 and created a task force to help revamp the process amid fairness and transparency concerns. That led to multiple legal challenges from local jurisdictions, and an eventual decision by the state Supreme Court that upheld Constantine’s authority to make the changes.

The county is now set to resume the inquests “to provide clarity, accountability, and closure to the public and to the families of those killed by law enforcement,” reads a statement from Constantine’s office.

Inquest panels don’t decide guilt or innocence but answer questions about whether a death happened while officers followed department policy and training or whether it was a result of criminal means.

“The road has been long, but I am thankful we can begin conducting inquests and providing the public with answers,” Constantine said in a written release. “The pandemic and legal challenges aside, building a process that the public can have faith in has been a difficult but necessary task, and I hope it can provide closure in these difficult and heartbreaking cases.”

Inquests resume March 15, 2022, with the April 2017 death of 19-year-old Damarius Butts, who was killed in a shootout with the Seattle Police Department that started with a call to 911 about a shoplifted 12-pack of beer, donuts, and a bag of chips. The proceedings are expected to last two weeks.

KIRO Newsradio’s Hanna Scott contributed to this report.

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Inquests into law enforcement-involved deaths resume in King County