Police accused of deadly force face independent prosecutions in revised bill

Feb 7, 2024, 2:56 AM | Updated: 1:06 pm

police prosecuted bill...

A police officer stands in front of counter protesters during the Seattle Police Officers Guilds rally. (Photo: Noah Riffe/Getty Images)

(Photo: Noah Riffe/Getty Images)

A deeply divided Washington House of Representatives passed a controversial bill Tuesday, led by Democrats, establishing independent prosecutions for police officers accused of using deadly force.

The vote tally was 53-44, with one member absent. Five Democrats joined nearly all Republicans in voting no.

This isn’t the first time the idea has passed the House. A similar version of the bill passed in 2023 with nearly the same vote count, 52-44, with two members excused. But it died in the Senate after the Ways and Means Committee failed to take a vote on it.

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This year’s version, HB 1579, has been revised to address concerns about cost and constitutional issues. It is part of broader reforms aiming for more accountability in policing, alongside other proposed bills. (A PDF of the third substitute of the bill is available here.)

How would the process work?

A person’s death following a confrontation with a police officer would prompt a state investigation into the officer’s use of deadly force. From there, the findings would then be sent to the local county prosecutor for a decision on whether charges are warranted.

Democratic lawmakers and police accountability activists have been advocating for the creation of an Office of Independent Prosecutions within the Washington State Office of the Attorney General to review such cases.

The chair of the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee, Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, told lawmakers that not all communities feel the same way about the police.

“Many marginalized communities don’t trust the police. Creating a truly independent effort to prosecute would hopefully improve relations between the police and the community,” Goodman said. “This office would operate separately but simultaneously with local prosecutors, aiming to ensure fairness and transparency in the process. Republicans have expressed reservations about undermining the impartiality of local prosecutors.

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Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, doesn’t find the additional resources in these cases to be necessary.

“We do not need another agency or to use more agency money because we have a properly functioning judicial system that will address these concerns,” Griffey said.

A judge would determine the best course of action if both the local prosecutor and the attorney general’s office seek indictments. Provisions for the new framework would take effect in July 2026 if the bill becomes law.

Now, it goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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