Legislators come to agreement on deadly force reform

The agreement between lawmakers, activists, and police amends the upcoming I-940 ballot initiative.

In a last-minute effort, lawmakers, cops, and community activists reached a deal on lowering the legal standard for prosecuting officers who kill in the line of duty.

House Bill 3003 is a product of a surprise agreement between law enforcement representatives and the backers of I-940, a pending ballot initiative that would reform Washington’s police use-of-deadly-force laws. HB 3003 alters I-940 in the event it passes to make it more palatable to law enforcement.

Washington state has long held a high legal bar for prosecuting police officers that kill in the line of duty. Statute dictates that officers must be proven to have acted in “malice” and “without good faith” to be prosecuted, a standard which critics argue is almost impossible to prove. A 2015 analysis from The Seattle Times found that while 213 people were killed by police between 2005 and 2014, only one officer was ever charged.

Last year, a group called De-Escalate Washington gathered enough signatures to put I-940 on the November 2018 ballot. The initiative would amend state law to lower the standard for prosecuting cops who use deadly force. It would also require that all law enforcement officers in the state receive training on mental health and violence de-escalation, and mandate that police officers provide first aid to injured suspects.

HB 3003—sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D–Seattle) and Rep. Dave Hayes (R-Camano Island)—would alter I-940’s changes to state law by requiring an “objective good faith test” of officers who kill, considering what another “reasonable officer” would have done under the same circumstances when weighing potential criminal prosecution. The bill would only go into effect upon passage of I-940.

At a Senate Law and Justice Committee meeting on the bill on March 4, Rep. Goodman said that the bill would be perfecting the initiative. “We have worked very hard to bring together law enforcement and the community to resolve what is really part of a national discussion: police use of force,” he said.

At the meeting, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs executive director Steve Strachan said that he supports the bill and that a “lengthy and negative” initiative campaign will not “serve to build community trust” between law enforcement and communities.

“We truly appreciate the willingness of the initiative backers to engage in discussion and to listen,” Strachan added.

“The theme of our campaign has been building bridges between communities and police and we believe this bill reflects that process,” said Heather Villanueva of De-Escalate Washington, adding that the bill “strengthens and clarifies I-940.”

“We’re going to save lives,” she said.

The House approved the bill by a 73-25 vote on March 7 and the Senate passed it on March 8—the last day of the legislative session—25-24 along party lines.

Prior to its passage in the Senate, several Republicans questioned whether it is legal to pass the bill and argued that the Legislature isn’t allowed to amend a ballot initiative.

“This bill clearly amends an initiative,” said Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R–Spokane).

Sen. Phil Fortunato (R–Auburn) said that while he supports the bill’s intent, he couldn’t vote for it because it was changing laws that don’t exist yet. “We are amending something in the future that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.

Sen. Mike Padden (R–Spokane Valley) proposed an amendment that would have placed the changes in HB 3003 on the November ballot as its own initiative that would compete with I-940, but his amendment was voted down along party lines by the Democratic majority.

Some Senate Republicans slammed the bill as an attack on law enforcement. “We need to stand up against this and make very clear that we support the people in law enforcement of this state,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen (R–Ferndale).

Prior to the bill’s passage, Democratic senators praised it as good policy on the divisive issue of police and their use of deadly force. “It supports the people in our community, it supports law enforcement, and it is excellent policy,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D–Kirkland).

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

More in Northwest

AR-15 rifle seized by Seattle police. File photo
King County examines gun violence trends

Nearly 77 percent of shooting victims this so far year in county have been people of color.

In this file photo, marchers make their way from Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett on Feb. 26, 2017. Muslim refugees’ admissions into the U.S. have declined by 85 percent since the Trump administration came into power in 2017, according to the International Rescue Committee. Sound Publishing file photo
Report: Fewer refugees settling in U.S. and Washington state

Admissions are on pace to only reach around one-fifth of their limit in 2019.

A high tide at Raymond’s Willapa Landing Park in Grays Harbor County, Washington. Sound Publishing file photo
On the West Coast, Washington is most prone to sea level rise damage

Report by the Center for Climate Integrity shows multibillion-dollar cost of battling back the sea.

Photo Provided by Naomi Parkman Sansome Facebook Page
Buckle up for another smoky summer

Wildfires in Washington will likely roar back this year and into the future.

What’s next for Washington’s 2045 green energy goal?

The Legislature set the goal, but how does the state actually get there?

Tasting room proposal could redefine alcohol production in King County

Pilot program would benefit wineries, breweries and distilleries. Several farmers are concerned.

King County Councilman Reagan Dunn sent a letter to the FBI asking for them to help investigate Allan Thomas (pictured), who is under investigation for stealing more than $400,000 of public funds and skirting election laws in an Enumclaw drainage district. Screenshot from King 5 report
King County Council requests report on special districts in wake of fraud allegations

Small, local special districts will face more scrutiny following Enumclaw drainage district case.

The Marquee on Meeker Apartments, 2030 W. Meeker St. in Kent, will feature 492 apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail. The first phase of 288 apartments is expected to be completed in early 2020. Developers are targeting people in their 20s and 30s to rent their high-end, urban-style apartments. Steve Hunter/staff photo
Housing study pokes holes in conventional wisdom

High construction and land costs will incentivize developers to build luxury units.

I’ll miss Doug Baldwin the player, but I’ll miss the man more

I witnessed ‘Contemplative Doug,’ not ‘Angry Doug,’ in my time covering the Seahawks.

File photo
Eviction reform passed by state Legislature

Tenant protections included longer notices and more judicial discretion.

Overdose deaths continue to rise locally and nationally

This may not be the same opioid epidemic anymore.

Cherry trees fully in bloom at the State Capitol Building in Olympia. Photo by Linda J. Smith
I-1000 passes state Legislature as advocates hope to increase equality

The initiative could allow affirmative action to return to Washington state after 20 years.