King County executive orders temporary halt to police shooting inquests

Cases involve Kent, Auburn police

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced on Monday that all inquest proceedings will be put on hold, including cases involving the Kent and Auburn police and a third case about the fatal shooting of a Kent man in Seattle.

Constantine decided to put the five cases on hold as members of the King County Inquest Process Review Committee continue to examine the inquest process, according to a county news release.

There are five pending inquests, which are fact-finding forums that investigate the circumstances surrounding law enforcement shooting deaths:

• An Auburn Police officer fatally shot Isaiah Obet on June 10. Police say the officer shot Obet after the 25-year-old man entered a home armed with a knife and later tried to carjack an occupied vehicle.

• Eugene D. Nelson, 20, died in Kent from multiple gunshot wounds after he allegedly tried to flee in a vehicle while dragging an officer Aug. 9 in the 23600 block of 104th Avenue Southeast. Two officers shot Nelson. Police had responded to a violation of a domestic violence no-contact order at a East Hill business.

• Damarius D. Butts, of Kent, died from multiple gunshot wounds after a reported shootout with Seattle Police on April 20 when he fled after allegedly robbing a 7-Eleven store, 627 First Ave., in downtown Seattle.

• Tommy Le, 20, was fatally shot in Burien by a King County Sheriff’s Office deputy on June 14. Deputies responded to a neighborhood after complaints about a man with a sharp object, possibly a knife. Deputies tracked down Le, who reportedly failed to drop the object. Le then reportedly moved toward deputies, who thought he had a knife. Two deputies fired shots. The Sheriff’s Office revealed a week later that Le had a pen in his hand, not a knife.

• Charleena Lyles, 30, was shot seven times in her Seattle apartment by two Seattle Police officers. Officers fired after they said Lyles threatened them with a knife.

Constantine directed that all of the cases to be temporarily put on hold and will not order any new inquests until the review committee delivers its recommendations.

Two previous Kent Police shootings already went through the inquest process.

• An inquest jury ruled in December that a Kent Police officer feared for his life when he fatally shot Giovonn Joseph-McDade, 20, of Auburn, on June 24 after he reportedly tried to use his vehicle to run over the officer after a short pursuit on the East Hill.

• An inquest jury also ruled in October that three Kent officers feared for their lives when they shot and killed Patrick Reddeck, 38, in October 2016 inside his Kent home. Officers were at the home related to a suspicious death in August 2016 at the residence of Amy Derheim, 41, the girlfriend of Reddeck. The two lived together.

Last week, King County District Court Presiding Judge Donna Tucker notified the King County Executive’s Office that she made the decision to decline future requests from the executive to appoint a District Court judge to preside at inquests.

“In the interest of fairness to all those involved, we will pause all inquests as the Review Committee and community partners seek to better understand what works and what doesn’t, and recommend reforms,” Constantine said in a news release. “I thank the District Court for its engagement over the decades. The decision by the Presiding Judge gives our Review Committee even more urgency, and greater latitude to suggest something new.”

“It is important and timely for the county to review this executive process,” said Judge Tucker.

State law authorizes elected coroners or appointed medical examiners to investigate the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of law enforcement in the performance of their duties. The King County Charter requires an inquest, and King County Code gives the executive control over the inquest process.

An executive order lays out the sequence, which begins when the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office recommends the executive convene an inquest. The prosecutor recommends an inquest after every officer-involved shooting death.

Since the 1970s, inquests have been conducted by District Court judges, who have traditionally accepted the delegation of the rxecutive’s fact-finding duties in his capacity as coroner. Inquests have been held before a six-member jury who listen to testimony and then answer questions to determine the significant factual issues involved in the case.

Convened on Dec. 12, the King County Inquest Process Review Committee includes:

• Jeffrey Beaver, Seattle attorney since 1986 practicing commercial and real estate law. He is also a member of the Washington State Supreme Court’s Minority & Justice Commission.

• Fabienne “Fae” Brooks, retired as chief of the Criminal Investigations Division with the King County Sheriff’s Office after more than 26 years of service. She is an experienced trainer and consultant nationwide on police/community relationship and coalition building as well as the co-director Law Enforcement Programs for the National Coalition Building Institute, an international non-profit leadership development network.

• Sandra “Sam” Pailca, Assistant General Counsel at Microsoft who served two three-year terms as the City of Seattle’s Director of the Office of Professional Accountability, a police oversight agency. She is a past board member of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.

• Rick Williams, brother of John T. Williams and member of the Nitinat Band (Eagle Clan).

• Judge Dean S. Lum, King County Superior Court judge, assigned to the criminal department. He serves on the ABA Commission on Immigration, the President’s Minority Community Advisory Committee for the University of Washington, and the Board of the Washington State Superior Court Judge’s Association

The five members will select a sixth. The Review Committee is charged with reviewing and reexamining the inquest process to determine what, if any, changes could or should be made to improve the process both for the public and the affected parties.

The Review Committee is expected to issue final recommendations in March.

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